Nineteen banks - national home banking stalwarts such as Citicorp and BankAmerica, plus a complement of less prominent regionals - have climbed onto the America Online bandwagon.
Most already offer their customers several options for banking via personal computer and view America Online, with its six million subscribers, as a way to appeal to a broad cross-section of computer- literate consumers.
Fourteen of the AOL banking partners will be delivering services through BankNow, a software package developed for the interactive network by Intuit Inc.
The other five banks have opted to use their own software. One of them - Security First Network Bank, which operates entirely on the Internet - will invite AOL users in through their Web browsers.
With its announcement this week, America Online Inc. takes its place among the many alternative "channels" for on-line banking.
Many of the banks on AOL's list are simultaneously cooperating with other companies that are themselves competitors, such as Intuit and Microsoft Corp., suppliers of the Quicken and Money financial management software, respectively.
Also crossing competitive lines, America Online said its subscribers will be able to bank from home with PC software from three suppliers other than Intuit: Checkfree Corp., Online Resources and Communications Corp., and Visa Interactive.
"Everyone understands that there is competition in the home banking arena," said David Baird, general manager of the personal finance division at America Online, based in Dulles, Va. "To align ourselves with exclusively one company would be a mistake."
Intuit can count on 14 initial bank users of BankNow. Spokesmen for the other three system vendors declined to say when they expect to have home banking products available for the AOL channel.
Experts noted that AOL and Intuit could be a strong tandem, in that they dominate their respective businesses.
Intuit's Quicken is the leading brand in personal finance software. The company claims more than 9 million active users and a market share of about 80%.
America Online's subscriber base of six million is as big as those of its next two competitors, Compuserve and Prodigy, combined.
The financial institutions currently offering BankNow are:
American Express, Bank of Stockton (Calif.), Centura Banks Inc., Commerce Bank of Kansas City, Mo., Commercial Federal of Omaha, Compass Bank of Alabama, CoreStates Financial Corp., Crestar Financial Corp., First Chicago NBD Corp., Laredo (Tex.) National Bank, M&T Bank of Western New York, Marquette Bank of Minneapolis, Sanwa Bank California, and Union Bank of California.
More plan to offer BankNow-based services through AOL later this year: BankAtlantic of Florida, Bank of Boston, First Hawaiian Bank, First Michigan Bank, Mellon Bank, Signet Bank, and U.S. Bank of Oregon.
Unlike Quicken, BankNow software is available free to America Online subscribers.
Banks' fees will vary. First National Bank of Chicago said it will charge $3.95 a month for on-line banking and $9.95 a month for other services that include bill payment.
Centura Banks Inc. said it will offer on-line banking free, and charge $5.95 a month for bill payment.
Intuit officials declined to disclose what its Intuit Services Corp. processing unit will charge to handle these transactions for banks.
Some of Intuit's larger bank partners chose not to offer BankNow because they already promote their own PC banking programs.
For example, Citicorp, First Union, and Wells Fargo each support Quicken, but passed on BankNow. Instead, they are paying a premium for a "button" on America Online's banking screen that will eventually link users to a proprietary home banking program.