PRONTO: Bank on Your AtariBy Deborah Burns
Soon you may be able to use the ATARI to do your banking without ever leaving home. A pilot electronic banking program called PRONTO was started last year by The Chemical Bank of New York for some of its customers who owned ATARIs, and is now being licensed to many more banks across the country. Crocker National Bank in San Francisco, Worthen Bank in Little Rock, and Florida National Bank in Jacksonville are just a few of the other financial institutions that have opted to use PRONTO for a test run in 1983.
The model program that began in New York served 200 customers of Chemical Bank willing to participate in this experiment. PRONTO is an extension of other electronic banking services offered by the bank that has included a corporate cash-management system and computer automated tellers.
To begin using PRONTO, a customer needs to own an ATARI computer, a standard telephone line and a modem. Each home computer system serves as a "terminal" for the main program that runs on Tandem Computers at Chemical Bank headquarters. The user connects with the main system by dialing a local network number for the bank via phone and modem to begin transactions on a home video screen.
When the first test run began last November, PRONTO customers had to use an acoustic-coupled modem to transmit and receive data. This type of modem has two foam "cups" into which the earpiece and mouthpiece of a standard telephone are placed. Customers used the ATARI 830 (acoustic-coupled) Modem along with the ATARI 850 Interface device and a special cartridge to activate the program. The long-awaited 835 (direct-connect) Modem for the ATARI was not available at the time, but should be soon.
Direct-connect modems are more advanced and much easier to use, and will eventually replace all acoustic coupled types. The ATARI 830 Modem connects directly with a telephone wall-jack or plugs into the telephone with a "Y" adapter. Most software communications systems that use a modem also require extra software such as TELELINK. The PRONTO system includes a communications software cartridge, similar to TELELINK, that is supplied to the user at no extra cost.
The PRONTO software is a complete financial management system that allows you to get instant information about your bank account. It also provides screens with forms for household budgets. You may register checks, pay bills, send electronic mail to other PRONTO users and keep accurate tax records that include principal and interest categories. The budget screens allow you to list up to 50 items and five different personal budgets per household. Each family member can have a secret access code to insure privacy. You may monitor all your account activities and get an "electronic statement" along with your usual monthly printed statement.
Most people who were asked to participate in this project responded enthusiastically. In San Francisco, Crocker Bank announced to its employees and the general public that it was looking for participants to begin the PRONTO pilot in early 1983. The fifty openings for test users at Crocker were filled immediately. A total of 200 customers and employees are expected to be using the PRONTO pilot in San Francisco by July. Many users of the Crocker system will have the option of using other hardware, such as the IBM PC or the Apple II.
The banks have not yet determined how much to charge for PRONTO, but when Chemical Bank queried its pilot customers, most agreed that they would be willing to pay about $10 a month for this service. If you feel that you may be interested in this type of service, ask your own bank. Who knows? It may be offering electronic banking like PRONTO in the very near future.