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Scott Cook speaks on money matters

Intuit chairman Scott Cook talks to NEWS.COM about financial services in a Net-based market.

SAN DIEGO-Intuit (INTU) chairman Scott Cook came to the Software Publishers Association conference here to talk about how he built a financial software powerhouse.

Instead, he wound up on the hot seat answering questions about the most recent bug found in the company's MacInTax tax package. His explanation for the bug that might cause tax returns to be filed incomplete? The IRS gets its tax forms out too late and leaves tax software companies no chance to beta test. (See related story for Cook's comments on the bug problem)

But while the tax bugs have become something of a thorn in Intuit's side, the company's real interest is in using the Internet to expand its empire. He talked to NEWS.COM about how to win in a Net-based market.

NEWS.COM: Intuit seems to be moving from being just a software company to providing more and more services in the financial area. Is that a strategy?
Cook: We are not getting out of software. We're adding things that the only way they can take place is on the Internet. Take Insuremarket, which is part of our Quicken Financial Network. It's a new low-cost way for insurance companies to get customers, and they can reach a very high-quality audience--the average policy size is far larger from the Internet than other channels.

How do you see the Internet affecting the way companies do business?
The companies that will get hurt by the Net are the ones that aren't very bright. There definitely will be winners and losers based on how radically companies change their corporate cultures. Any financial institution that has profited because it kept its customers in the dark will be hurt, because the information is out there on the Internet and the customers will find it.

There's been a lot of talk among financial institutions that they don't like Intuit getting between them and their customers.
That was true for a time, but it's changed now. In September, we announced that we would sell our private network [for handling financial transactions] and bill-paying service to CheckFree. The banks had felt there was only one pipeline and we controlled it. Now they can use whatever network they want. I started making phone calls to some bank CEOs the day we announced the sale, and some of them said, 'This changes everything.'

Is that why you sold the network?
We sold it because we didn't want to own a private network when there was the Internet. Also, we were shitty at bill paying, and CheckFree is very good at that.

You're known as someone who pays close attention to brands. How do you see the Internet affecting brands?
A few months ago, about ten of us from the computer industry were in a roundtable discussion with [syndicated columnist] William Safire. He asked very thoughtful questions and we from the computer industry could agree on only one thing: the important role of trust on the Internet. Trusted brand names become more important on the Net.