Pay your bills online

BankAmerica is taking personal finance on the Internet a bit further, making online payment to non-bank customers possible.

BankAmerica is taking personal finance on the Internet a bit further.

The US$16.5 billion San Francisco bank has begun to let customers pay bills online on the Internet, even if the recipient of the money doesn't have an account with BankAmerica. Other big banks, such as competitor Wells Fargo, allow users to transfer money between accounts -- moving money between two places on the same computer system.

The BankAmerica site allows customers to send money to noncustomers by filling out a form on the company's Internet site at www.bofa.com. That triggers an electronic-mail message to a bank employee, who sets up the transaction off-line with the person who will receive the money.

BankAmerica also offers the service with the Managing Your Money dial-up software for PCs and on America Online.

"You can see how the battle for Web capabilities in online banking is stepping up," says Phoebe Simpson, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "Until recently, Web banking was a pie-in-the-sky idea; now, the large banks are starting to compete with their Web banking services."

BankAmerica sees online banking as a natural extension of its other electronic banking services -- including automated teller machines -- offering customers convenience and the ability to bank from home, at any time.

And the technology is also an extension of automated teller machine (ATM) technology, says Robert Newton, vice-president of interactive banking product development at the bank.

The back end of the system is the company's IBM mainframe-centric network that links branch offices and ATM machines. Linked to the mainframe is a Tandem Computers Inc. server that has hosted home-banking services since Bank-America started permitting dial-up access to its accounts 15 years ago, Newton says.

The Managing Your Money software dials directly in to the Tandem box, Newton says. Customers can also reach the bank from AOL, through a Sun SPARCserver 20 that runs custom software built by Destiny Software in Elverson, Pennsylvania. AOL simply passes data from its own servers to the SPARCserver, which translates the data for the Tandem machine and feeds it in to the mainframe.

For the bank's Web site, Bank America runs Enterprise Server software from Netscape Communications, with built-in encryption for security. The server software runs on a Sun SPARCcenter 1000.

The bank selected the modular software and hardware strategy to guarantee flexibility and ease of modification for the system.

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