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Meca Software To Push ebranch Interactive Service

By Jim Bruene on May 7, 1997 12:17 PM | Comments

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Financial services marketers are working on innovative ways to deliver information right to your desktop.


Meca Software
is getting pushy, and wants to bring banks along for the ride. The bank-owned publisher of Managing Your Money is using technology from push leader Marimba Inc. to develop an Internet-based broadcast network called ebranch that will let banks transmit account information, transactions, investment news, advertising and other information to customers’ PCs.

he service, slated to be ready for consumer consumption by Q4, is one of the first announced marriages of banking services with push technology, which delivers information to Internet users rather than make them hunt for it on the Web. It’s also the latest sign that personal financial management tools are moving from the desktop to the Internet.

Meca is not the only one looking to build push functions into its software. Microsoft and Intuit are expected to build some push functions into their next version of Quicken and Money. But Meca has been the most vocal about its plans, and may be in the best position to pull it off given the benefits a pushed-to-the-desktop bank channel could have for its mega-bank owners, BankAmerica, NationsBank, First Bank System, Fleet Financial, Royal Bank of Canada and The New England. Partnering with Marimba helps Meca keep up technology-wise with Microsoft and Intuit.

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Subscribers of “pushed” financial services will be greeted by a synopsis of their financial position as soon as they turn on their computer.


Though ebranch is still in the early testing stages, analysts are already giving Meca high marks for turning to the Net. “The company’s given up the ghost in ever trying to beat Quicken and Money and doing the most with what it’s got,” said Karen Epper, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

In ebranch, Meca is building an interactive broadcast medium it will sell to banks and other financial institutions, which are expected to incorporate it with other Internet and PC banking offerings and customize it to fit their needs.

Meca intends to begin testing ebranch by late May with an unnamed financial institution – not one of its bank owners – and add one or two more pilot partners before commercial rollout, said Meca President Paul Harrison.

The service will be built on Marimba’s Castanet family of push products. The Java-based products include a server called a transmitter that plugs into an HTTP server and acts as an information distribution engine, and client software called a tuner, which users program to search multiple transmitters and download information or software applications and upgrades.

Once up and running at a bank, a customer could configure ebranch “so at 6 a.m. it delivers your bank balances, quotes on four stocks you’re interested in and the company news on those stocks and the day’s Wall Street Journal. When you’d turn on your PC it would have everything you’re expecting,” Harrison said.

Banks will deliver the ebranch tuner to customers on a floppy disk or direct them to download it from the institution’s Web site. Better yet, the tuner is expected to be incorporated into future browsers. Netscape has said it plans to include Marimba’s tuner in its upcoming Netcaster (formerly called Constellation) browser. Once installed, the tuner becomes the customer’s interface with the bank, replacing a Web browser or serving as a customized browser.

Meca hasn’t determined what it will charge banks for ebranch, but expects financial institutions to offer the tuner software for free. Marimba also gives away the tuner; Castanet transmitters start at $15,000 for unlimited use and $995 for a license that permits 100 user connections an hour.

Meca is one of the first, but not the only financial services company working with Marimba. The Palo Alto, CA, venture, started with much fanfare last year by four members of Sun Microsystems’ original Java development team, is also partnering with Schwab, Morgan, Lehman Brothers, CNNfn and other financial services businesses Marimba officials won’t name.

Banking and investment services and push technology are a good fit, said Dave Cope, Marimba’s Marketing VP. In addition to the ability to deliver an application and content, Marimba offers reporting tools banks can use to track what services their customers use or don't use. Another bonus: banks can customize channels of information to deliver anything they please.

“So if a financial institution decides they have five types of customers – heavy traders, light traders and so on – they can automatically provide a different look and feel for each one. The Castanet transmitter has software plug-ins that provide for personalization,” Cope said.


CNNfn, the cable giant’s financial news Web site, may soon join the Webcasting frenzy with a financial channel. It will only be a matter of time before bank partner(s) ride on CNNfn’s coattails and add account data to the info stream.

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Such customization means banks can deliver specific advertising to specific customers as well, added MECA’s Harrison. That’s an important selling point for banks that want to replace brick-and-mortar branches but don’t want to lose cross-selling opportunities, he said.

Contacts: Dave Cope is VP Marketing at Marimba, 415.328.5282, cope@marimba.com. Paul Harrison is President at Meca, 203.452.2608.

-------------------Michelle V. Rafter

Contributing editor Michelle V. Rafter covers the Internet for Reuters, the Chicago Tribune, WebWeek and others. Reach her at mvrafter@deltanet.com

 

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