Banks scrap e-projects to satisfy Cruickshank

The UK's leading banks have sidelined a series of ambitious e-commerce initiatives in the rush to meet targets outlined in the...

The UK's leading banks have sidelined a series of ambitious e-commerce initiatives in the rush to meet targets outlined in the influential Cruickshank review into the UK banking industry.

Nick Huber

Banks have also ditched plans for an industry-wide project to allow bill presentation over the Web and now plan to develop individual billing projects instead.

And while the banks are committed to developing a real-time Web payment system for small and medium-sized companies, the initiative has no deadline for delivery. The payment initiative would be a major step forward for the UK's e-business infrastructure.

A leading banking industry body has admitted that a number of far-reaching e-commerce projects are being relegated in importance as banks target their resources to meeting the goals outlined in last year's Cruickshank review.

The review - published by Don Cruickshank, chairman of the London Stock Exchange - requires banks to make it easier for customers to change accounts and direct debits. Most banks aim to have an automated system for account switching by the end of this year.

The Cruickshank ultimatum has superseded other e-commerce initiatives, according to the Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs). Last year Apacs said it would spearhead a project to allow bank customers to view all their bills from a single Web site.

"It has all gone very quiet on bill presentation," said Richard Tyson-Davies, head of public affairs for Apacs. "Boards think banks should employ resources better on direct debit and account moving."

UK banks have also put an industry-wide real-time Web payment project on the back burner, said Davies.

Under this project the banks have committed to developing a real-time online payment system aimed at small and medium-sized businesses.

Companies that need speedy clearing of payments currently have to use the Clearing House Automated Payment System (Chaps), which is expensive and used mainly by larger companies.

In a separate development, Computer Weekly can reveal that plans to pilot another real-time online payment system were quietly scrapped last autumn. The reason was a lack of consensus among leading UK banks, according to sources close to the discussions.

The pilot, backed by software suppliers, would have involved credit or debit card details being sent from the merchant's Web site directly to the banks as an XML message.

Apacs said that it was not aware of, or involved in the initiative.

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