Putting its history as a personal financial management software publisher behind it, Meca Software LLC has unveiled its "e.branch."

The Internet banking system, which the bank-owned software company wants to test with some top-20 U.S. institutions in the first quarter, is the product of a development partnership with Sun Microsystems Inc. and its JavaSoft unit.

"Banks are getting into the cycle," said Paul Harrison, president and chief executive officer of Meca, which is based in Trumbull, Conn. "Financial institutions have recognized that they need to provide a more cost-effective environment, grow their revenues, and build customer relationships."

He said e.branch is designed to give a customer a single, consolidated view of his bank, a personal computer version of a branch office, and a logical extension of a banking Web site.

"It aims to build the relationship between the institution and customer by automatically matching a customer's interests with the products and services the institution offers," said Jon Lowell, chief technology officer of Meca.

A form of push technology from Marimba Inc. will offer automatic updating. E.branch can run on a PC, Sun workstation, Web kiosk, screen telephone, automated teller machine, or television set-top box-a characteristic of the Java programming language that lets services be offered across all delivery channels.

Mr. Harrison said interest in e.branch has been high, principally because most banks' Web sites are in the early stages of evolution. "We want to help banks format their Internet content and reduce their costs," Mr. Harrison added.

"The challenge for institutions is to have the architecture to scale, to meet the spikes in work loads in a networked environment," said Rob Hall, Sun vice president of worldwide financial services sales and marketing. "Sun is leveraging its experience in scaling and networked capacity," Mr. Hall said.

E.branch uses a television remote control picture on screen to simplify navigation. It offers functions such as check imaging, news alerts, bill presentment, and real-time financial advice adapted to customers' lifestyles.

"We're trying to find out the customer's psychology," Mr. Hall said. "We want to identify the user and find out what device he is using to access the bank."

"We're taking the concept of private banking to the masses," Mr. Harrison said.

Although e.branch will support Meca's current Managing Your Money software, Meca is moving to become an "Internet-centric" supplier. It will build the Managing Your Money capabilities into a bank's Web site.

The personal financial management software business "was a good way to get

started" but not enough to sustain Meca, its CEO said. "The new framework will totally differentiate us from the pack."

"What nobody else has is the ability to give customers a set of software

deliverables that integrate with an on-line system or in disconnected mode as well," Mr. Lowell added. Copyright c 1997 American Banker, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.americanbanker.com