HSBC has launched its first Internet venture by signing a letter of intent with Compaq Computers. The new service - announced yesterday and available in October - will provide a payment system allowing merchants to authorise and accept credit-card transactions over the Internet. Eric Tai, HSBC's head of marketing and planning for personal banking, said the service had the potential to change the way a large number of the bank's merchant customers did business, and the methods that many of its customers bought goods and services. 'We have recognised that merchant customers want to transact business with cardholders from all over the world,' he said. HSBC therefore had developed a system that would allow quick transactions in a wide range of currencies, he said. Mr Tai said he believed the programme would allow customers to achieve even greater levels of efficiency. Richard Lake, a director of Compaq Computer which will provide the necessary equipment and services, said Hong Kong was lagging behind in the development of an Internet trading industry. 'Until now, Hong Kong has lacked the vision or wherewithal to develop electric commerce,' he said. Mr Tai said that in addition to supporting consumer-to-business transactions, the new system would allow merchants enrolled in the bank's existing Purchasing Card Programme to accept business-to-business transactions.