Sage lured by Internet gold

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The Independent Online
SAGE, the successful but sober accountancy software group, may become the next subject of the stock market's fevered quest to find gold in the Internet.

The Newcastle-based group has begun to examine ways in which it can adapt its accountancy applications for use with digital cash, a concept promoted by Internet supporters.

"We are examining ways to benefit from greater integration of on-line electronic banking software with our own accountancy software," Graham Wylie, a director, said. The company is already working on one such product, which would allow companies to link their existing on-line banking software with Sage's accounting software.

Digital cash is one of the most exciting potential products of the on- line banking revolution that is already sweeping the US. Accountancy software, experts agree, will be key if it is to become a reality. Sage says it hopes to be in a position to announce details of an extension of its own software range to help corporate clients in this area "towards the back end of next year". But Mr Wylie was keen to downplay any prospects of a rapid payback. "The developing market for these products is far more advanced in the US than it is over here," he warned. He said the banks' natural caution was one factor. However, Sage's French Sybel business already provides several electronic banking products.

It may be several years before Sage is able to cash in on this blue-sky concept. Its good links with the banks mean it is well prepared to respond to their needs, as and when demand arises for digital-cash software. Mr Wylie says Sage can support companies managing funds on-line. Few if any analysts have spotted any Internet potential in the stock. But in the US, where Sage's biggest rival, Intuit, is based, there has already been enormous coverage of that company's attempts to develop on-line services linked to its financial software, including its most successful product, Quicken, a home finance programme.

American clients can already link into on-line banks over the Internet. Customers can transfer funds, deposit money, and pay bills in this way.