At a daylong hearing Thursday, bankers agreed with the government's conclusion that most stored-value cards do not qualify for deposit insurance.
But consultants who testified at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. hearing said banks largely are unprepared for the new world of electronic banking and need guidance from regulators.
Diane M. Casey, a partner with the management consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP, said regulators ought to be giving banks advice on how to handle technologies.
"Most banks are jumping onto the Internet with little time, expense, or planning," she said.
The pitfalls are many, particularly for community banks, Ms. Casey said. A March survey of 150 community bank presidents revealed that 79% felt they were up-to-date in their use of technology. But only 42% of all surveyed had an operating plan to guide their investments in technology, she said, and fewer than one in five banks had anyone on staff to oversee the use of technology, she said.
Banks often choose the lowest-price equipment and software and run the risk of ending up with "dead-end" technologies, she said.
Bank regulators could help by issuing an interagency policy statement emphasizing the need to plan for and manage new technologies, she said.
The consensus at the hearing was that the time is not ripe for regulation in this area.
"It is premature to promulgate a regulation regarding deposit insurance coverage for stored-value cards," said Leland M. Stenehjem Jr., a Fargo, N.D., banker who heads the Independent Bankers Assocation of America. Consumer disclosure is a good idea, he added, but only if it's voluntary.
Keeping electronic cash out of the hands of hackers is another regulatory challenge, witnesses said. Security breaches are even more likely as consumers move money across the world, said Valerie J. McNevin, an independent consultant in Glastonbury, Conn.
Ms. McNevin said banking and telecommunications regulators ought to work together to develop a new structure to regulate electronic banking.
James Rudd, vice president of Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco, recommended a much more modest approach. Simply make assessing security systems a part of the regular safety and soundness exam, said Mr. Rudd, who spoke for the Mondex stored-value system.