Citibank and Chase Manhattan Bank have turned the New York home banking market into an advertising battleground.

In the first quarter, Citi, Chase, and Chemical Bank - the latter two had not yet merged - spent a combined $2 million on regional print and television ads promoting banking by personal computer, telephone, and screen phone.

That amount was one-eighth of all New York bank advertising in the quarter.

In the comparable period of 1995, the banks spent only $250,000 on home banking, according to Competitrack, which monitors ad spending. It did not break the numbers down by individual bank.

The companies splashed their virtual-banking messages across everything from bus billboards to prime-time TV spots.

Their spending on home banking was up eight-fold while total New York bank advertising rose by 14%. John Jelilian, a senior vice president at Competitrack in New York, said one-upsmanship was at work.

"Citibank last year waived a lot of fees for this service and is putting a lot of marketing and advertising behind it," he said. "Chase has been doing a lot in response."

Aside from home banking, the biggest change in advertising was in a category Competitrack calls "Non-FDIC-insured investment products." New York City banks spent $875,000, up from $100,000 last year.

A MOST EXCLUSIVE ADDRESS

On the World Wide Web of the Internet, "banking.com" is a domain to die for. Somebody claimed the name years ago, and it's not a bank.

The owner, Leapfrog Technologies Inc., has gotten plenty of offers from people wanting to buy the address. It's not budging.

"It certainly generates a lot of traffic," said Derek Porter, director of product strategy for Leapfrog, a Commerce, Ga., company that designs Web sites for banks.

Leapfrog is one of the growing army of companies hoping to serve banks on the Web. The venture was formed a year ago by the merger of Systeme, an Orlando, Fla., branch automation firm, and Bank Line Systems of Commerce, Ga., which handled back-room processing functions.

Leapfrog still offers the services of both founding companies, and has just ventured into Web-spinning.

"There's a lot of people out there who can build Web pages, but we pride ourselves in knowing what banks need," Mr. Porter said.

Capitalizing on the amphibian theme, Leapfrog offers "Webbank branch," a product that enables banks to post loan and deposit rate information on the Net and to open checking, certificate of deposit, and loan accounts.

Leapfrog is building sites for about a dozen community banks. It has completed one for First Commerce Bank of Georgia, which is using the on- line monicker "netBank." "They decided, 'Why be the First Commerce Bank of Georgia when you're available to everyone?'" Mr. Porter said.

As more and more banks are going on-line and snatching up available URLs (universal resource locators, in Web talk), finding a catchy name is getting harder.

"If you go to Lycos (an Internet search engine) and look for 'banking,' you get 15,000 hits," Mr. Porter said. One of those, of course, is "banking.com."

WHERE THE BANK-SURFERS ARE

Market researchers estimate 1% to 2% of the nearly 100 million U.S. households do their banking via personal computers. For all the fanfare about the Internet, the vast majority of those customers are using conventional on-line channels.

Earlier this spring, Security First Network Bank, the pioneer "Internet only" institution founded by Cardinal Bancshares of Lexington, Ky., surpassed 2,000 accounts. Mark Twain Bank of St. Louis, the first American bank to hook up with Digicash Inc.'s E-cash Internet money system, was also in the low four digits, according to vice president Frank Trotter.

Their Web sites have attracted thousands of times more hits than that, an indication most surfers don't quickly part with their money. But optimism abounds. Mr. Trotter hopes to hit a 10,000-account target by June.

By contrast, Citibank in New York has acknowledged it is well past 120,000 on its PC program - a number that tripled after the bank waived electronic-service fees. The BayBanks HomeLink on-line program was 65,000 and counting in April. "They represent 7% of our customer base, and we know 36% have come computers and modems," said BayBank Systems senior vice president Robert P. Shay.

In April, First National Bank of Chicago had 10,000 "good, affluent customers" banking by computer using the Microsoft Money or Intuit Quicken packages, said senior vice president James Grant. That was up from only 1,000 in February 1995.

First Chicago was one of the first banks to work on those money- management software tie-ins. The 10 million Money and Quicken users are proving to be the most immediate prospects for banking on-line.

TORONTO DOMINION BANK wins the prize - for largest banking industry Web site. First posted in February 1995, with 300 pages, it has since grown to 3,800. In February this year it registered a million hits and 4,000 E-mail messages. Visitors using English, French, or Chinese may scan hundreds of screens about bank products, mutual funds, mortgages, and general economic data.

"We wanted to build a financial information resource center," said Steve Gesner, associate vice president at the fifth-largest Canadian bank. "We purposely steered clear of what I call fluff." (www.tdbank.ca)

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