Originally published in the September 1995 issue of Internet World

Banking on the Internet, once prohibitive because of weak security, is slowly coming to fruition as the first banks begin to make services available to customers online. In addition, mega rivals Visa International and MasterCard International have teamed up to develop a means of conducting secure credit card transactions on the Net.

Wells Fargo, the second largest bank in California, is among the first to offer rudimentary banking services on the Net. Its customers can now obtain information about the bank’s services and can access checking and savings account balances, credit lines, and a list of checking transactions for the previous 45 days. Later, the bank plans to enable customers to open accounts via the Net. Wells Fargo is working with Netscape Communications Corp. to develop a system to transfer encrypted information to its customers.

Wells Fargo also is experimenting with Internet payment with a few merchants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last April, the company announced it would partner with Cybercash to offer electronic payments. The Cybercash system allows users to create “virtual purses” in which they carry electronic money. Because a user withdraws the money from the purse the way he or she would withdraw cash from an ATM, the transactions are more anonymous than direct transfer from a bank account to a merchant.

For more information, send e-mail to [email protected], call (800) 956-4442, or visit http://www.wellsfargo.com.

Taking the concept of online banking one step further are two large banks, Wachovia and Huntington Bancshares, and a smaller one, Area Bancshares. The three firms are teaming up to create the first Internet-only bank, Security First Network Bank (SFNB). The venture, in which the three partners have invested a combined $5 million, is scheduled to begin offering full banking services via the World-Wide Web by the end of the year. Visit its site at http://www.sfnb.com.

Visa and MasterCard, which are responsible for more than 690 million credit cards worldwide, have allied to create a common secure standard for credit card transactions on the Internet. The two firms, which usually are fierce competitors, are seeking to extend their reach in the burgeoning Internet commercial market where millions of potential consumers await.

Visa has been working with Microsoft to develop a software program to keep credit card payments private by issuing passwords to customers, while MasterCard has been working on a similar system with Netscape Communications Corp. Europe’s largest credit card company, a consortium of banks called Europay, has been working with IBM to develop a secure Internet credit card system.