CIBC, Telus take wraps off digital trust company

CIBC and Telus Thursday unveiled the official name of their joint venture to provide secure e-commerce services to corporate enterprises.

Soltrus Inc., based in Toronto, will employ a staff of 60 people, including staff which have been transferred over from the public key infrastructure (PKI) group at Telus. The new company, which is privately-held, has also received funding from VeriSign, for which Soltrus will be its sole Canadian affiliate. CIBC and Telus first announced the firm, formerly code-named “Trustco” in late October.

Telus’ PKI customer base includes, ChumCity and Hewlett-Packard, while CIBC has offered digital trust services to and the Canadian Institute of Health Information, among others. Peter Ricciardi, the former president of the CIBC+VeriSign division who will lead the organization, said Soltrus is starting out with more than 3,000 combined customers.

“Our customers are generally enterprises. However those enterprises are developing applications that include supply chain management applications as well as consumer applications,” Ricciardi said.

CIBC, for example, has created an application that allows customers to apply for various financial services online. Soltrus would provide the authentication to make such transactions legally binding.

Beyond identity and authentication — proving that people are who they say they are — Soltrus will offer the capability to digitally sign for products and protect or encrypt personal data like credit card information. It will also give merchants with a payment and settlement facility that would allow them to settle payments from consumers in real-time.

Claudio Sanniti, Principle, AGTI Consulting Services and Myriap Advanced E*BusinessSystems, said there could be a considerable market opportunity for Soltrus and its services.

“We’re seeing a lot of traction, a lot of activity,” he said. “Maybe not in the banking space but certainly in the mutual fund, credit union (area). Some of the pension funds are reaching out to their employers and potential clients.”

Ricciardi said Soltrus could also play a role in digital notorization. If two businesses are conducting negotiations and trying to conclude a contract online, for example, Soltrus could act as a third-part notary and digitally notarize that the transaction has occurred, time stamp it and archive the data of the transaction.

“In the future, it could never be repudiated that either of the parties conducted that transaction,” he said. “We’re moving away from being another online security company and integrating all of the components of e-commerce.”

There have been partnerships between banks and telcos before, including one between the Royal Bank and AT&T to build an application to facilitate foreign exchange transactions. But Sanniti, who worked at CIBC for seven years, said Soltrus is a different sort of entity.

“Nothing surprises me when it comes to CIBC,” he said. “Sometimes there’s just a good business reason for formulating a venture such as this. There are times there are underlying reasons why people hook up. It could be IPO related, financially related or what have you . . . this looks like it could be quite legitimate.”

As a private company, Ricciardi would not disclose the ownership structure of the firm.

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