The American Bankers Association is endorsing nFront Inc. as a provider of Internet services for community banks.

Atlanta-based nFront, which counts nearly 125 community banks as clients, beat out four rivals for the endorsement.

Andrea Cernich, director of strategic alliances at Corporation for American Banking, an ABA subsidiary, said nFront rated high because it lets users log in directly to a server to gain account access. The other contenders require accounts to be reached through electronic mail or automated teller machine switching networks.

Another deciding factor was nFront's relationships with core processors and technology vendors. "They were the most aggressive in procuring relationships, so their capabilities are greater," Ms. Cernich said.

The endorsement comes as many small banks embrace the Internet. About 600 institutions now offer Internet banking, according to Gomez Advisors Inc., a Concord, Mass., research firm that helped the ABA in its review. That is roughly four times the number of banks and thrifts that offered customers an Internet option a year ago.

"What we're seeing is that banks are looking at the Internet because it either fits their strategy of generating new business or they know their customers will demand it," said Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Gomez Advisors.

Daniel L. Krieger, chairman and president of First National Bank of Ames, Iowa, said his $335 million-asset institution recently decided to offer Internet banking because customers in his community-the home of Iowa State University-were starting to ask for it. The bank ultimately chose the nFront system because it was the easiest to use and offered the most services for business customers, he said.

For example, business owners wishing to view images of checks written can go back 24 months with the nFront system. The standard for other systems is about two months, Ms. Cernich said.

Initial costs for the nFront system vary depending on the size of the bank. Most community banks can expect to pay $50,000 to $70,000, Ms. Cernich said, plus fees for each customer transaction. First National's investment was "in the low six figures," Mr. Krieger said.

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