Ted Spooner may be a software entrepreneur, but he would prefer not to be typecast.
He wants to be accepted by bankers as a peer, the better to get across how his on-line products would serve their interests.
That may take some doing. Despite having banking credentials and an ability to speak the language, Mr. Spooner seems to fit a much hipper mold.
His company, Corillian Corp., took its name from a "Star Wars" script.
Though he is chairman and chief executive officer, the sign on his office door says "referee." Typical of young companies in flourishing high- tech havens like Corillian's in Beaverton, Ore., "we don't have a lot of time for formalities," Mr. Spooner said.
Mr. Spooner himself would look at home on a Hollywood set; he bears a physical resemblance to director Steven Spielberg.
But Corillian is connecting with its audience. Mr. Spooner and his entourage of more than 30 people-many were with him in earlier corporate incarnations-have been operating in the current format only since last May. Yet two major regional banks have bought Corillian's Internet banking system and are saying nice things about it.
Corillian is very much "out there" technologically. It has a close relationship with Microsoft Corp. and has thrown its lot in with the Windows NT operating system and OFX, the Open Financial Exchange standard for on-line banking that Microsoft, Checkfree Corp., and Intuit Inc. all have gotten behind.
Mr. Spooner can talk all day about the wondrous capabilities that can be built on an OFX foundation-what he calls "extended OFX"-or on any good baseline standard, for that matter. By basing the system on what he calls "commodity server hardware," Mr. Spooner said he can get a bank on-line for an "all-in cost under $250,000."
As attention-grabbing as that may be, what really sets Mr. Spooner apart are experiences at financial institutions a decade and more ago-and not just in technology. He was once an internal auditor at the now defunct Benj. Franklin Savings and Loan Association.
"There are people in this business who don't know how a bank measures profitability," Mr. Spooner said in a recent interview. "They don't know net interest margin. I had to know that. I had to know gap."
The software-mogul side of him offers to bridge another kind of gap bankers face. They "don't have GUI (graphical user interface) or on-line expertise like an America Online has," he said. "If this is going to become one of the most important channels for financial services, banks have to make an investment reflecting that view."
For Crestar Bank, one that has bought the message, "Corillian has covered a large part of the spectrum we need," said Tripp Johnson, senior vice president. Crestar became the first on the Internet-based Voyager system, in spring 1997. The Virginia-based bank's home banking service runs on an array of compact but powerful server computers in Corillian's back room in Oregon.
Mr. Spooner and his president, Kirk Wright, said they bent over backward to satisfy their first customer, and the reviews are good.
"The stuff works, it's not vaporware," said Mr. Johnson, who said he could recall no glitches in the operation. "I am not an R&D bank for them. I sleep well at night."
In October, Corillian announced its second big signing, Amsouth Bank of Birmingham, Ala., which set the launch of its OFX-based service for the current quarter.
Grayson Hall, the Amsouth executive vice president of operations and technology, said the Voyager OFX software would deliver money management information to customers in real time, up to the minute.
Corillian prides itself on its ability to unify its on-line system with a bank's existing, legacy systems and to make the delivery of information uniform. The balance on an automated teller machine screen would be the same that shows up on a personal computer at home.
"Data have to be in sync," Mr. Spooner said. "That's the way it always should be, but it was extremely hard to do" when PC banking was tied in with personal financial management software like Quicken and Money.
Corillian attacked this challenge by trying to help banks emphasize their brand identities through Web browsers. Crestar has gone so far as to offer a simple sign-up procedure on the Web; with a debit card there is no need to enroll in person.
Mr. Johnson said Corillian's approach with OFX simplifies his life. He has customers coming in via Quicken, Money, and the Internet, but "I only have to focus on one box."
"Once you have a standard transaction-format infrastructure in place, you can do a lot of cool things with it," Mr. Spooner said.
Corillian has augmented its basic OFX server with Voyager Gold and Voyager Platinum versions. Bill payments, credit cards, and numerous other banking services are available and bill presentment is on the way. The company recently introduced MoneyPad, an "authoring tool" that a bank can use to create what Corillian calls a Personal Financial Appliance. It could be customized for each user for investing, financial planning, or other purposes.
High-tech as it may be, MoneyPad speaks to bankers' current concerns about branding, product differentiation, and enhancing relationships, said Richard Comandich, a former banker who sits on Corillian's board of directors.
"A lot of people in the home banking space find a niche or have a product for a niche and look at the market from the viewpoint of that niche," said Mr. Comandich, the architect of alternative delivery strategy at U.S. Bancorp in Portland, Ore., before its acquisition last year by First Bank System of Minneapolis.
"The Corillian guys know there are several large niches, with different enough characteristics, and are creating products to help banks meet customer needs in all of them," he added. "They don't get stuck defending relatively narrow turf. They put their energies into continuing to develop more products to meet more emerging needs."
Mr. Spooner, 40, began putting those pieces together when he worked as an auditor and investment analyst for Benj. Franklin in Portland.
"I was one of the few PC-literate people there in the early 1980s and qualified as a data processing auditor," Mr. Spooner recalled. In the process he had a window on an unusually diversified thrift institution-it owned leasing, insurance, appraisal, and other businesses-with a sizable technology commitment.
In 1986, First Technology Credit Union in Beaverton hired him away as controller. Founded in the 1950s as Tektronix Federal Credit Union, First Tech fell into disrepair until it widened its field of membership to serve employees of several hundred high-tech companies in the Northwest including Microsoft.
Mr. Spooner put his diversification experience to work, forming several subsidiaries including a technology unit that he headed and spearheading development of a home banking system that predated and influenced the one Microsoft was to attach to its Money personal finance software. (Mr. Comandich and U.S. Bancorp were in the first Microsoft test wave.)
"We know how to do a lot of things based on all those experiences," Mr. Spooner said.
There were limits to First Tech Credit Union's ability to self-finance such growing businesses. The home banking software, Personal Branch, was sold to CFI Proservices Inc. in 1992.
Mr. Spooner spun one of them out for himself in late 1994, an early- stage Internet company called Interactive Solutions Corp. "We learned bill payment the hard way," he said.
In 1996, Interactive Solutions became one of the first in a string of acquisitions by Checkfree, which was on its way to becoming the biggest force in bill-payment processing. Mr. Spooner became responsible for Checkfree's Internet strategies, but the role became untenable as the Atlanta-based company quickly homed in on bill processing as its core business. Mr. Spooner bought back much of what was Interactive Solutions last year to form Corillian.
He has been working with Mr. Wright, also 40, for three years. Mr. Wright also speaks from the customer perspective, having worked previously for a bankers' bank in California.
"There is a new opportunity here," he said, referring to the power of a well-targeted service delivered to the desktop. "It is not just re-purposed from other channels."
Mr. Spooner described the company mission as "contributing to the ubiquity of financial services at the desktop in innovative ways as an end- to-end provider." He added, "Until we increase the consumer count, this will be an emerging market."
He will wake individual bankers up to the opportunity with a very real- world lesson: "Network names like Visa, MasterCard, and the ATM networks were created to achieve physical presence. A bank couldn't put ATMs everywhere, but it could join a network.
"Now we have come full circle. Banks want their names, not the networks,' in front of the customer."
"I believe they are more sensitive to these market needs than most of their competitors," Mr. Comandich said of Corillian. "They allow the bank to be in the face of its customers."