BankAmerica Corp. plans to set up a site on America Online as a first step toward offering an array of banking and transactional services through the network.

The San Francisco-based banking company expects to place a network-based forum on America Online's newly created Personal Finance Channel by yearend. Any of the on-line service's three million users will be able to check out information about the bank's products and services.

The on-line site may also feature educational or entertainment presentations and electronic "chat groups" similar to those in other divisions of America Online, said Catherine Graeber, a director of marketing for BankAmerica.

After the site goes live, the bank plans to start offering home banking, consumer loan, and credit card transaction services - and perhaps even on- line shopping - through this medium.

BankAmerica, a joint owner of personal finance software maker Meca Software Inc., eventually hopes to integrate Meca's Managing Your Money program on-line, Ms. Graeber said.

This would place Meca, which is also half-owned by NationsBank Corp., on better competitive footing with Microsoft Corp.'s Money and Intuit Inc.'s Quicken, to which a host of banks have already pledged on-line tie-ins.

BankAmerica is not the first bank to announce a site on an on-line service provider. First Chicago Corp. set up a site earlier this month on Chicago Online, the local offshoot of America Online.

But Katherine Borsecnik, a vice president for content at America Online, characterized BankAmerica's effort as more far-reaching, given the bank's aggressive plans to quickly branch out into transactions.

"This relationship is more strategic," Ms. Borsecnik said.

She said that First Chicago's current set-up and BankAmerica's intial phase would be "basically interactive marketing." The information component of America Online is not unlike what many banks and financial service companies, including BankAmerica, have already placed on the Internet's World Wide Web.

But by early next year, Ms. Graeber said that the bank intends to upgrade the on-line offering to include home banking functions like bill payment, funds transfer between accounts, and other transaction-based services.

"America Online is a natural extension of our Internet site," Ms. Graeber said. "We always believed that on-line services are important because that's where the consumer stops first."

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