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Integrion banks on new owners

The interactive banking services provider will detail a new financing plan and governance structure intended to expand its business and develop new e-commerce initiatives.

Interactive banking services provider Integrion Financial Network, formed in 1996 by IBM and 15 major North American banks, today detailed a new structure that reduces Big Blue's ownership role and raises an unspecified sum of new capital.

The reorganization, which has been in the works since at least December, comes after months of rumors that the banks were unhappy with Integrion and that it would go out of business.

"Any one of 20 owners could have scuttled this," Integrion CEO William Fenimore said, noting that the restructuring took unanimous approval.

The new structure puts three of Integrion's six active banks on a new board of directors, lets two banks that wanted out to depart, and keeps the option of using Integrion's technology open for other original members. The ownership stakes of technology providers IBM and Visa are being diluted, but IBM will continue to be the chief technology provider.

Financial terms of the recapitalization were not disclosed but were less than the $80 million Integrion originally raised.

Fenimore expects Integrion to add several banks to both its governing board and as customers of its IFS platform by year's end.

Integrion offers financial institutions a network through which electronic transactions flow from consumer software to a bank's host system or a payment processor. The original goal was for IBM to build a common back-end that all the big banks could use, but many banks are building their own with online banking projects.

Of the six financial institutions using IFS today, Bank of America, Bank One, and Washington Mutual will immediately take seats on the new Integrion board of managers.

"It's always been an organization for which the deliverable was unclear, and it became something of a political front for the banks," said e-commerce analyst Scott Smith of Current Analysis. "Since the time Integrion was conceived and founded, banks have found they could do more of this on their own and don't need the critical mass of their fellow banks."

"It had been a clear example of too many cooks in the kitchen," Albert Pang, an electronic commerce analyst at International Data Corporation, told Reuters. "I think this is a strategic move on the part of the banks not to get too involved in the future development of the consortium but maintain a working relationship with it."

The two banks pulling out of Integrion and KeyCorp and Royal Bank of Canada. Royal Bank bought the Internet banking operations of Security First Bank and inherited its software infrastructure, which is being marketed commercially by Security First Technologies.

Integrion will continue to work IBM and with CheckFree on bill presentment or online billing.