Visa International announced the addition of three strategic alliances for its remote electronic banking service. Under the agreements; Huntington Bancshares, U.S. Order, and Amrcsco Services Inc. become available to support financial institutioni that choose Visa's infrastructure for home banking and bill paying.
Visa's announcement, coinciding with the Faulkner & Gray home banking conference in Chicago, represents the latest jockeying for position in that emerging business by the bank card associations.
Intuit in the Line-Up
Visa launched its "partnering" strategy last year with Intuit Inc., the software company best known for the Quicken line of personal finance products. Earlier this year, Visa began a test of home banking with Crestar Bank of Richmond, Va., using screen telephones provided by U.S. Order.
MasterCard International, which said it does not plan a major announcement during the conference this week but has several signings on the way, designated Checkfree Corp. of Co lumbus, Ohio, as its bill-paying provider. MasterCard's Master Banking system also has at least three major processing banks Chemical of New YOrk, Wells Fargo of San Francisco, and First-Interstate Bank of Denver - in its corner, and an endorsement from the Independent Bankers Association of America.
Freedom of Choice
Visa U,S,A, president Carl Pascarella and Wesley C Tallman, the international association's president of products and information services; said its multiple alliances are designed to maximize member banks' flexibility and freedom of choice.
"We recognize that our members have different needs and strategies, plus. different functional capabilities," Mr. Pascarella said. "Therefore, a single service provider cannot address the range of member requirements.
"By promoting multiple channels of supply and competition in the marketplace, Visa will allow. our members to differentiate themselves and to obtain bill payment services on an economical basis; while continuing to expand their services outside the traditional branch office."
In effect, Visa has certified that each of the three new partners meets the association's standards for processing bill payments electronically. It is up to individual banks to decide whether to use any of them, or none of them, as a conduit to Visa's bill payment capability.
In Huntington Bancsharcs, Visa has on its side one of the nation's most aggressive promoters of alternative delivery systems, including banking by phone. The Columbus-based holding company, which recently strengthened its ties to Visa by backing the Visa Check card, said it will initially support touch-tone telephone access, followed by the more sophisticated screen telephones and personal computers.
"The challenge for the Huntington and other institutions is to use technology to make banking services more convenient and cost effective for customers, while increasing our own profitability," said William M. Randle, senior vice president and corporate marketing director, and a leading proponent of remote banking.
Huntington's approach, he said, has been to "provide universally available, affordable, and efficient services over existing telephone lines using a familiar object - the telephone."
U.S. Order, with its Scanfone product, took the telephone to a higher level of sophistication by adding a small computer screen for home banking. The Scanfone banking product, BankPlus, has been delivered to more than 10,000 customers over the last three years.
The Herndon, Va., company also handles bill payments via touch-tone phones. It recently introduced a second-generation screen phone, PhonePlus, and plans to offer a personal'computer-based bill payment product in the fall.
'An Important Step'
William F. Gorog, U.S. Order's chairman and chief executive officer, said the agreement with Visa "is an important step toward realizing all of our electronic banking goals.
Stressing his company's use of low-cost, distributed processing, Mr. Gorog added, "BankPlus is available to all Visa member institutions and is easy to use, since it utilizes the existing economic infrastructure developed for credit and debit cards."
Amresco Services, an Austin, Tex., data processing unit of BEI Holdings, said it is enhancing its Access 'Banking electronic service package for telephones and PCs. Amresco also said it intends to have a screen phone pilot in operation by yearend.