Eight UK banks are backing a scheme intended to boost confidence between businesses trading online.
The unnamed initiative, being developed by the Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), uses digital certificates to electronically identify individual businesses. The scheme will go live at the end of the year.
Trust between trading parties is perceived as the biggest barrier to ecommerce. Some 27 per cent of UK businesses rate security as their major concern, according to Apacs.
Patricia Hewitt, Minister of State for Small Business and Ecommerce, said the initiative will "provide a welcome boost for business-to-business ecommerce by seeking to overcome the most significant barriers to online trading - namely identifications and payment security".
Certificates will be issued by the participating banks on behalf of their business customers, providing them with unique proof of identification similar to a passport.
In an online transaction, trading partners will exchange certificates which can be verified instantaneously by participating banks giving both businesses assurance as to the identity of the partner with whom they are dealing.
Participating banks include Barclays, Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Natwest, National Australia Group, HSBC Bank, Co-operative Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The scheme's backers hope to clinch a deal with Identrus, the company which provides certification services to corporates.
Andy Ross, director of strategy for ecommerce at Natwest, said: "We want Identrus to supply the identity component, but it is not a done deal."
Banks will decide on pricing for their corporate customers. Rob Close, director of Barclays Bank's group payment strategy, said: "The banks are co-operating in order to compete. It is up to the banks how they leverage this in the context of offering wider services."
Ross said business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce would "dwarf that of consumer ecommerce".
The UK B2B market will grow from £5bn in 2000 to £156bn by 2005, while business-to-consumer ecommerce will grow from £700m in 2000 to £11bn in 2005, according to figures from Apacs.
"The average saving for ecommerce procurement is about £50 per transaction. To make those savings we need trust to get the growth," said Ross.
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