Signet testing home banking watersSignet Banking Corp....


Signet testing home banking waters

Signet Banking Corp. is dipping a cautious toe into the home electronic banking waters, adding TouchTone bill payment through an agreement with the new MasterBanking service.

MasterBanking, formed in April, is an alliance between MasterCard International Inc. and Checkfree Corp. It contemplates a whole range of cash transaction services, accessed with devices ranging from plain old telephones on the low end, through personal computers and special "screen phones," up to interactive television.

Don Schonder, Signet's assistant vice president for alternative delivery systems, said that while the Richmond-based bank holding company has started with the most basic service, it's reviewing all the options.

"That's one of the reasons we selected MasterBanking," he said. "It's a transaction platform, and you add access devices to that platform."

Under the new service, customers pay $6.95 a month for an account that lets them set up a list of merchants and trigger payments using the phone.

Competitor Maryland National Bank (now owned by NationsBank Corp.) has signed up about 4,000 customers for a more advanced service that uses the ScreenPhone from Online Resources & Communications Corp. of Fairfax, Va. Online Resources opened eyes in the banking world two months ago by winning a patent on ways to handle debit transactions from home terminals.

The patent put a crimp in MasterBanking's plans to handle transactions through the Cirrus automated-teller network, Mr. Schonder said. He predicted that challenges to the scope of the patent would be appearing.

Microlog wins contract for response system

Microlog Corp. of Germantown has been picked to build an automated system that will notify key workers and keep management informed in the event of a nuclear power plant emergency.

Microlog said last week that it had sold its Emergency Voice Response System to Union Electric Corp. of Missouri for use in its Callaway plant in Fulton.

The EVR 2000 System will maintain personnel files retrieved from the plant's IBM computer system, then send out voice or pager messages during an emergency or drill.

Not only will it be able to pick the closest workers, but it will then quiz them about whether they're able to report to work and when they might arrive.

After the staff members respond by speaking their identification numbers and "yes" or "no" answers, the system can generate reports and fax them to a command center.

Microlog said the system has extensive safeguards against false or accidental operation.

Computer nerds are gadget geeks, too

A marketing survey released last week confirms what we've (( all suspected: Personal computer ownership is just the tip of the gadget-addiction iceberg.

TechScan Inc. of Northbrook, Ill., found that among the 70 million Americans who use a PC at work or at home, ownership of other electronic devices is way above the national average. For example:

* 72 percent own answering machines, compared with a 43 percent average.

* For camcorders, it's 33 percent vs. 17 percent.

* Cellular phones, 22 percent vs. 12 percent.

The study found the greatest concentration of PC users in the 35-44 age group (38 percent); 53 percent have incomes from $39,000 to $75,000.

Computer-users tend to spend 17 hours a week at their 'f machines, which are 2 1/2 years old on average.

First half rough on electronics sales

First-half sales figures released by the American Electronics Association last week paint a lackluster picture of U.S. producers' markets.

For all seven categories tracked by the AEA, sales rose 4.8 percent from the period in 1992, reaching $163.5 billion. But the category of computers and office equipment gained just 3.6 percent, and the communications sector actually showed a drop of 4.7 percent.

Bad news also appeared in the "book-to-bill ratio," which compares the value of orders received in the period with the value of goods shipped. In the first half, the computer category was the only one of the seven with a ratio greater than 1, indicating accelerating sales. The figure for all categories was 0.984, and for communications gear it was a lethargic 0.959.

In a statement, Robert J. Saldich, the president of Raychem Corp. and current AEA chairman, commented, "We must not lose sight of the fact that our share of the global technology market has slipped badly over the past half decade."

New Schwab software works with Windows

Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. has released a version of its on-line trading software that runs under Microsoft Windows.

The San Francisco-based discount brokerage's StreetSmart package lets its customers trade stocks, options, bonds and mutual funds; get real-time quotes and statistics; create reports and graphs; and review accounts.

@4 It is sold for $59 through local Schwab offices.

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