Internet Banking Pioneer

Cary Griffin, Greg Boudreaux, and Randy Kahn were responsible for one of the first banks in the world wide web. Randy recalls the pioneering effort for First Interstate Bank.

I am often credited with being a banking Internet pioneer for putting up the second bank web site (after Wells). But actually, the credit belongs to Cary and Greg. One day they set up a meeting with me and introduced me to the Internet. I was very impressed and they were very articulate about its future. Rather than seek official approval, which I felt would get mired in red tape and internal debate, I "allocated" $65,000 from a market research budget the vice chairman had given us that I was responsible for. And so, one of the first bank web sites (just brochureware at the time) was hosted in Cary's garage! Some people were fascinated; others attacked me vociferously for wasting the bank's time and money on something that would never hit the mainstream.

A few months later, the topic of the Internet came up for the very first time at a managing committee meeting. Several of the members had heard about it and done some surfing. The vice chairman said we ought to begin looking into in. The CIO, Dan Eitingon, said, "We already have a site." Eyes opened wide. "Who did it?" The next month, one of my managers, Vince Hruska, and I gave a presentation on this new wonder to the managing committee, at the vice chairman's request.

At the end, he had one question: "How much to do a real site?" Although money was very tight back then, he somehow managed to find us the $2.5 million we requested. And so First Interstate, just weeks after Wells put up the first interactive banking web site, became the second bank to put up an interactive web site.

Greg Boudreaux adds more detail:

Here's a quick overview of the whole FIB website thing, which if memory serves began during the time we were all working at EPRI. At the time, I was also doing product consulting for Randy at FIB, on a PC-based banking service for small businesses -- non-internet, since people weren't using the web yet at the time. When the CommerceNet consortium launched in Silicon Valley, several large banks were a part of it and had put up "home pages". Cary and I had this idea that we could sell FIB on joining in, so I put together a modest slide show, and the two of us visited Randy and his boss. Cary brought his PowerBook, and I brought a 20-foot RJ-11 phone cable, which we ran from an analog line in someone's cubicle into a conference room. We dialed up Cary's ISP, and I ran through the presentation on what the Internet was, and how the bank's competitors were beating them to it by joining CommerceNet. We talked them into joining, and letting us represent them on the steering committee, and in the working groups. I did Steering, and the EDI and Payments groups - Cary did the Networks group. We also built them a simple website, using brochures from the branches for copy. Cary and I made the site, but we hired a graphic designer (Anastasia Fischer, a dancer from Cary's Brazilian dance corps) to do the images. We eventually added Patty O'Rourke as a web programmer, and a system programmer whose name I've forgotten. These people were all from Sonoma County, Cary's connections, and they were the little team we used for gigs over the next few years.

Back then, Cary and I fancied ourselves as these great internet proselytizers to the banking community, because we knew something about the technology, and we knew a few banks, most of whom couldn't spell internet. After EPRI, Rodney Robertson and Cary and I all contributed to the purchase of a used SparcStation that we could use as a server for prototypes (the first one was for the Gas Research Institute, to do something like EPRINet there). We ended up using it to build and temporarily host web sites for a number of companies -- FIB, Sumitomo Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, First Data Corp, and a few others. We had a PacBell frame relay service which, at Cary and Becky's location, was always failing during storms (hence, Becky's memory of the UPS unit). The servers (we eventually added a Microsoft server) were in their shed, in the room we still rehearse in. In 1994 we designed, built, and hosted the Standard Chartered website as a collection of around sixty mini-sites, one for every country in which the bank did business. I had to attend meetings in London and Singapore to establish the project. We ran that site for over seven years, finally handing it over to them in 2000. I remember that sometime in 1998, after a bank reorganization had booted all our original contacts, the new bank manager was horrified to learn that the bank's entire web presence was being run out of "some California bloke's garage."

We did indeed host FIB's initial web site there. Eventually, as Randy mentioned to you, we were hired as consultants to FIB's larger development project, which was managed by the bank's IT division, and included IBM Global Services, AOL Productions, and their ad agency, Hal Riney Partners. This was a fun and successful project, intended to catch up with Wells Fargo, who had previously launched the first web-based online banking service, at least by a major bank. By the time it launched, it was a better service than Wells', but was destined for an early retirement as Wells Fargo had finally succeeded in acquiring FIB. During the development of this service, it experienced delays -- in reaction to which, FIB hired Cary and I to develop and launch a second generation of their website (again, on our servers). This one had substantially more content, including a branch locator. Notably, it also featured the first (by a major bank) secure online application for new account services, for which we had to visit and train FIB's call centers in LA, Reno, and (I think) Fremont.

Our professional collaboration went on in this fashion for nearly six years, then diminished considerably after I moved to London, and he joined Wells exclusively (eventually as an employee).

This was among the most enjoyable periods in my career, and it certainly would never have happened without Cary. He was rarely daunted by grabbing hold of the available Net application technologies and running with them, which you of all people will remember was very much in the spirit of Internet development at the time. His attitude was completely non-competitive, creative, and fun-loving, and I know I'm a different person today because of our association.

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