NEW YORK - Financial software rivals Microsoft Corp. and Intuit Inc. on Thursday proposed a unified technical standard which they said will make it easier to bank over the Internet.
The proposal, also announced with CheckFree Corp., a processor of Internet transactions, is a step toward allowing customers to use any available financial management software at the financial institution of their choice when banking online.
The proposed standard is called Open Financial Exchange. It is as if the technology providers were agreeing on a standard electrical socket design and asking lamp designers to make their lamp plugs fit the standard socket.
A unified standard "represents a dramatic benefit for financial-services provides and their customers," said Bill Harris, executive vice president of Intuit.
The specifications are still being refined and will be included in software to be released in September, the companies said.
Microsoft and Intuit have been competing to get banks to use their respective personal-finance software, which allow consumers to pay bills, balance checkbooks and perform other financial transactions over the Internet. Intuit dominates that field, with Microsoft a distant second.
CheckFree has been competing to be the behind-the-scenes processor of Internet transactions.
The agreement would not eliminate that competition. But it would enable people using the various systems to more easily exchange financial information over the Internet.
Currently, online banking customers must choose among the software such as Intuit's Quicken and BankNow products; Microsoft's Money; Meca Software's Managing Your Money; or a bank's own online system.
Customers then have to find a bank that allows them to use their chosen system for online transactions.
With the proposed standard, banks would agree to allow customers to use any online banking program that is available. In addition, it would allow financial institutions to choose any available company or system to process the transactions, including CheckFree.
The agreement did not include two other major Internet banking systems - Integrion Financial Services, a consortium of banks and International Business Machines Corp.; and Visa International's ADMS bill payment system.
Both will be compatible with Open Financial Exchange when it becomes available in autumn, and both are exploring further collaboration on online banking, according to Intuit, Microsoft and CheckFree.
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