Maryland National Bank and American Security Bank plan to start selling in May a $75 phone that will allow customers to check on bank balances, transfer funds and pay bills by touching a keypad. The service will cost about $7 a month.
The heart of the system is a telephone that looks and acts like a standard push-button telephone with two exceptions: a small built-in screen that can display four lines of text and nine additional keys that guide users through the banking process.
The phone can be plugged into any wall jack. When it is not being used for bank business, it can be used like an ordinary phone.
"I've had techno-nerds use it. I've had techno-geeks use it. And nobody walks away without having it work within 30 seconds," said Chris Armstrong, senior vice president for community banking services at MNC Financial Inc., the parent of Maryland National and American Security. "I'm very excited about it."
The system, developed by Online Resources & Communications Corp. of McLean, Va., works like this: To make a transaction, the customer presses the "on" button by the display screen, which causes the phone to dial into an Online computer. Once the connection has been made, the system tells the user to enter a personal identification number.
That information is forwarded to the bank's computer, which confirms that the PIN is legitimate. Once the number has been confirmed, the bank's computer treats the transaction like a regular automated teller machine transaction.
The system initially will be limited to basic banking services such as fund transfers and bill payments. But Mr. Armstrong predicted that the system would be expanded to include non-traditional banking functions such as arranging for airline tickets and traveler's checks.
"Ultimately, the sky may be the limit," he said. "You'll be able to do everything but pull cash out of it."
Mr. Armstrong declined to discuss marketing plans for the new service, which has been under development since 1989.
But Information & Interactive Services Report, a trade publication based in Washington, says MNC might have already ordered up to 10,000 units, indicating that the bank expects a big response. According to the publication, MNC plans to set up demonstrations in bank lobbies to give the public a taste of home banking.
The debut of the service in May will mark the third time MNC has taken a run at the home banking market.
Its first attempt in the 1980s was ended for lack of customers, reflecting the experience of many banks that have introduced home services.
The bank later inherited the service when it merged with Equitable Bancorporation. That service was discontinued at the end of last year.
Several on-line services, including Prodigy and Genie, offer home banking services. But those services require the use of a personal computer, which many people do not have.
Phone-based banking services, by comparison, have fared well with the public for simple services such as checking on balances. But they have not caught on for transactions that require more detailed instructions.