In an argeement with ramifications for the credit card and electronic commerce markets, Wells Fargo & Co. said it would join with on-line auction site eBay Inc. in a venture to let individuals accept payments over the Internet nearly as easily as they make them.
The deal, announced Wednesday, is something of a rarity for electronic commerce, given its focus on person-to-person transactions rather than the business-to-business market so coveted by companies pursuing Internet opportunities.
For Wells Fargo, one of the trailblazing banks on the Internet, the venture would open up a market that some analysts think could produce massive growth in credit card use in coming years.
Wells Fargo would own 35% of Billpoint, a payment service provider that eBay bought about a year ago. Initially, the service would be used to enable eBay customers who sell merchandise to accept Visa credit card payments from buyers. The payment would go directly into the checking account of the seller.
This would be a groundbreaking development, because it would be the first instance of consumer-to-consumer credit card payments, industry observers said.
Such an arrangement would in effect allow consumers to act as Internet merchants without having to set up Visa and MasterCard accounts. Billpoint would serve as the so-called "master merchant," funneling payments though Wells Fargo, which would provide the transaction processing services.
"This is a breakthrough," said James B. Shanahan, a partner in the consulting firm Business Dynamics in Newark, Del.
Moreover, if other Web site shoppers have access to the capability - and Wells and eBay say they plan to market Billpoint elsewhere - "it will be a new source of spending to the credit card industry," Mr. Shanahan said. "It creates the opportunity to more than double or triple the number of merchants in the United States."
"The Internet now is filled with small entrepreneurs who would like to take credit cards," said Janet S. Crane, CEO of Billpoint. "That is our target audience, the person-to-person market."
Ms. Crane is a former MasterCard and Mondex U.S.A. executive. The involvement of Wells was seen as no surprise, given Ms. Crane's strong ties to Wells Fargo, which is the largest U.S. shareholder in Mondex U.S.A.
Dick Kovacevich, president and chief executive officer of Wells Fargo, said the bank's goal with Billpoint, "is to make [it] the most successful Internet payment provider in the world."
Visa said in a statement, "We look forward to exploring ways of working with Billpoint to extend the benefits of Visa acceptance to individual sellers."
The deal also raises questions about fraudulent payments on the Internet. If consumers are acting as merchants, will they be held liable for fraudulent transactions? Ms. Crane said Wells would absorb any fraud losses, which she added, is a "small" problem for eBay. "We believe there will be very little fraud," she said.
eBay has 10 million registered users. The company predicts Billpoint will eventually handle most eBay sales. In a year, sellers will be required to pay 3.5% of the transaction amount, plus 35 cents.
Laura Mandaro contributed to this article.