Microsoft puts Money in the bank

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Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates predicts "virtual branches" and beefed-up e-mail schemes will become primary ways for delivering online banking, but he argues that nonproprietary connections between competing bank systems will be critical to making online banks take off.

Speaking on Tuesday to a conference in Atlanta sponsored by Bank Administration Institute, Mr. Gates argued Microsoft wants to provide technology rather than become a bank itself - reassuring words from someone who once called banks "dinosaurs."

"It is becoming increasingly important to provide home-banking services to the 35% of Americans who use home PCs as well as the increasingly large number of home PC users abroad," he said. "We've been working closely with retail banks and the technology companies that serve them to understand these industry issues and evolve our strategy to meet their needs."

Microsoft's plan to cash in on electronic banking includes:

--Promoting a "universal, rich and secure e-mail platform for interaction with consumers," developing ways for banks to deliver forms electronically and advancing security methods. --Enhancing Microsoft Money, the company's personal-finance software, to let PC users access more services from their bank, with direct links to a bank's "virtual branch" on the Web. --Building new software tools to help banks create Internet sites.

Intuit, which came close to being a very integral part of Microsoft's plans, is continuing its aggressive efforts to plant its software on the Internet. The company will offer an Internet banking connection in the second half of next year.

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