The recent publicity and high stock valuations accorded to companies that sell on-line and Internet banking have revived the notion that traditional banks are a vanishing breed. Indeed, Bill Gates of Microsoft has described their business systems as dinosaurlike. Going a step further, a Fortune magazine cover story called banks "clueless" and "mired in a tar pit."

While colorful, these characterizations are misleading. Far from being threatened with extinction, banks are becoming more, not less, important in the overall economy.

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