In a case of technological deja vu, bankers are once again being drawn to the TV set as the way to offer home banking services.
The catalyst for the change - a throwback to the first flurry of interest in home banking in the early 1980s - is the technology revolution gripping the cable TV industry.
Leaders like Time Warner Inc. are planning to spend billions of dollars over the next few years to build new, interactive entertainment and information systems, that, among other services, offer home banking.
These plans are thrilling some bankers, including Barnett which hopes to be a leader in making home banking available through these systems.
"I think financial institutions have a tremendous opportunity to work with the cable companies in bringing interactive media to the home," said Thomas P. Johnson, Barnett's chief retail banking executive.
Michael Luftman, a Time Warner spokesman, said it plans to spend $5 billion over the next five years building interactive cable TV systems, called Full Service Networks, across the Country. Time Warner's cable empire now serves 7.1 million people in 36 states.
Jockeying for Position
Telecommunications companies are also jockeying for positions in the nascent market. US West joined the fray last month by agreeing to buy a 25% stake in Time Warner's entertainment unit for $2.5 billion, $1 billion of which will go to build interactive TV networks.
The first Full Service Network is scheduled to be launched next April in Orlando.
It is expected to offer movies and games on demand, home shopping, classified ads, electronic encyclopedias, and home banking services to 4,000 cable subscribers in the Florida city.
Time Warner is asking leading Orlando banks to cooperate by offering home banking through the network
One institution that plans to do so is Jacksonville-based Barnett.
"We've made initial contacts, and plan to offer Desktop Banking on their network," said Catherine Corby, Barnett's of alternative delivery systems.
Desktop Banking is a home banking system Barnett launched in May that supports banking through personal computers hooked into the Prodigy computer network, and prototype notebook computers from Apple Computer Inc. that double as speaker phones.
Time Warner isn't alone. Virtually all of the leading cable TV systems and telecommunications companies are planning or experimenting with new interactive systems that include home banking as one of several services. And software powerhouse Microsoft Corp. is reportedly in talks with various players.
These moves represent a remarkable turnabout for television as a vehicle for home banking.
Chemical Banking Corp., an early home banking pioneer, tested. then abandoned, a service called Pronto that initially enabled consumers to use the joysticks on their Atari Corp. video games to do basic banking transactions on their TV sets.
After that, banks focused with mixed success, on developing home banking services for Personal computers and touch-tone telephones. More recently, interest has risen in home banking from computerized phones with screen displays.
The entrance of the cable TV companies into the home banking market has reignited a debate over which of the many interactive-media technologies now under development will be the first to gain mass appeal.
"I think its going to come sooner on TVs than on screen phones," said Dave Lockton, president and chief executive officer interactive Network Inc., Mountain View, Calif., a start-up interactive TV company with major investors including Tele-communications Inc., National Broadcasting Co., and A.C. Nielsen Co.
He said his reasoning is that interactive video systems will be subsidized by deep-pocketed cable and telephone looking to sell more services.
Screen phones will have less financial backing, he said. Screen phone advocates, understandably, disagreed.
"I find it difficult to believe that people will use the TV for transaction services," said William M. Randle, the senior vice president leading Huntington Bancshares Inc.'s efforts to market screen phones and processing services.
Mr. Randle and other screen phone experts said consumers are unlikely to to give up watching MTV or Monday Night Football to electronically pay a credit card bill or check an account balance.
Ultimately, however, the interest of cable TV companies in home banking could help financial institutions.
"This is just one more way of reaching the consumer in the home," said Glenn Santmire, a senior vice president of remote banking for MasterCard International, in New York.