The Internet can be a blessing: It enables customers to communicate directly and instantaneously with their banks. But it also obliges banks to respond to flurries of electronic mail on topics arcane and prosaic. To test banks' readiness, FutureBanking recently sent messages to six prominent banks with Web sites. Two that offer transactional services were asked how they guaranteed security. The others were asked when they planned to open for Internet banking. Chase Manhattan was notable not only for its three-hour turnaround, but also for saying it "has no plans at this time to expand our on-line services to the Internet for customers' banking needs." Huntington Bancshares also responded within a day, saying an on-line service was imminent. Security First, the so-called "Internet only" bank, and Wells Fargo offered lengthy descriptions of security measures. Bank of America took three weeks to return a boilerplate message about several tests under way and various launches "tentatively scheduled for release before summer." The other slowpoke, Citibank, said, "Because we are not fully geared up to process a large volume of responses, it may take a while before you hear from us." After two months, we were still waiting.

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