American Management Systems, which stepped outside its usual realm of business two months ago by starting NetCredit, has added another big-name banking company to the online lending network. FleetBoston Financial Corp. last week became the third bank company - the others are Citigroup and LoanFirst - to join NetCredit. Banks, their affiliates, and brokers can use the network to feed loan applications from Web sites and other distribution points into a central underwriting system.

AMS, of Fairfax, Va., has 300 financial institutions as clients; its loan software, credit bureau reporting, and loan decision systems have been sold to more than half of the largest 50 lenders in North America. It expects that NetCredit will have 60 lenders within the next 18 months.

Network members, which pay AMS a fee for each transaction, can refer loans to other banks when applicants do not meet their own underwriting criteria and can help applicants to get instantaneous credit decisions instead of making them wait hours or days. Borrowers can visit the Web site of a participating bank and get an immediate decision on an application for a home equity line, an automobile loan, or a mortgage.

Dione Kenyon, managing director of consumer lending at Fleet, said, "Today it will take us a few hours" to get back to a loan prospect, because "we do not have the capability to communicate via the Net with our customers." Using the NetCredit service, that probably would take "a couple of minutes," she said.

She described NetCredit as "middleware" between its technology systems and those of its partners. "It is a translator from whatever external language is being spoken to the language of our underwriting system."

NetCredit is part of Fleet's effort to use the Internet more to deliver products and services to its customers.

It and other banks are not using the Web heavily to distribute loan products.

TowerGroup of Needham, Mass., says it costs an average of $45 to process a loan application and that some cost $125 to process. AMS says NetCredit can cut processing costs by as much as 50%.

Jamie Punishill, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said managing an online exchange for loans is "a completely new world for AMS. These guys are integrators; they design software systems. They do not facilitate business and do not facilitate B-to-B exchanges."

Jame Cofran, vice president and senior manager of AMS' consumer financial practice, defended the move. Given its client base, "it is not a very big step for us to create this exchange," he said.

"None of the networks or brokers out there has this real-time capability to hook up to any lender in an easy fashion,'' he said.

"They might go out to one or two or three players, but the ability to take the credit application from any source and send it to any lender and back is a pretty unique thing."

Mr. Cofran said the service will be popular with banks and other financial services companies.

"Lenders are out there to lend money, while brokers are out to aggregate demand and take applications and get those applications reviewed and bid on," he said.

AMS' stock was trading midday Friday at $36, down $1.75.

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