Banks outpace other financial companies in offering transactional services via the Internet, according to a report from Meridien Research Inc. of Needham, Mass.

According to the report, about one-third of banking companies offer Web- based transactional services that provide, for instance, the ability to transfer funds from one account to another. Only 20% of brokerage companies and 1% of insurance firms offer comparable capabilities.

However, Octavio Marenzi, research director in Meridien's electronic delivery service, said, "The competitive value of a transactional site will fade" for banks, because many more brokerages and insurance companies are expected to upgrade their Web sites in the coming months.

To stay ahead, banks must add new capabilities. Mr. Marenzi and others see on-line sales as the next logical step.

"Those financial institutions that use the Internet to focus selling and marketing activities on targeted audiences will be the ones that derive the greatest benefit," he said.

Some banking companies, mostly large ones, already have begun adding Internet sales capabilities.

BankBoston Corp., for instance, has rolled out a new service that gives visitors to its Web site the option of connecting by phone with a bank sales representative.

A user of the bank's Call Now service types a phone number into an appropriate place on the bank's Web site and receives a call from a BankBoston representative within seconds.

The service is based on technology from AT&T InteractiveAnswers Service.

"This service meets the needs of our key customer segments and delivers pre-qualified leads right to our sales force," said Tisha Capello, director of consumer payments at BankBoston.

Call Now has been in testing since October. About 50% of customers that used it opened new accounts. BankBoston's Web site receives an average of 8,000 to 9,000 visits a week.

But despite strides such as this, the evolution to sales-based Web sites is far from complete.

Only about 2% of banks sell through their Internet sites, according to Meridien's report, "Internet-based Financial Services - Moving Beyond Transactions to Active Selling."

Experts said the most effective sales pitches are those driven by data mining efforts, in which raw customer data is turned into useful information about demographics, transaction habits, and profitability.

Many banks already are fueling sales efforts through branches and call centers with data mining results.

Similar projects for the Web are in the works and should mature in the next year, experts said.

Carol Power contributed to this article.

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