Students of the small business market know that entrepreneurs' buying practices more closely resemble those of consumers than of corporate enterprises.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the same holds true for the adoption of PC banking.

Data from Compass Geodemographics Systems show that affluent consumers are generally quick to adopt PC banking. Research studies have long shown that many of entrepreneurs' buying patterns - particularly in larger businesses-mirror the patterns of the affluent.

Therefore we may expect that the growth in small-business PC banking will keep pace with the overall growth in usage among the affluent.

According to data from Compass, about 2.7% of affluent consumers use PC banking. It's reasonable to assume that usage among small businesses will be that high or higher.

An increasing problem for large banks that target small businesses is how to create the relationship intimacy that small companies seek.

Many large banks have moved away from traditional relationship banking. To control costs and drive efficient acquisition, many large banks expand product lines, boost the sophistication of certain products, and push brand value.

As a result, many small-business owners are skeptical that large banks can deliver services tailored to them.

PC-based banking services can help. Using smart designs for interface and information access, large banks can improve intimacy with entrepreneurs.

For generations, bankers have understood that it is easier to expand relationships with current customers than to attract new ones. Customers move anchor accounts reluctantly and only under extreme conditions.

In the Oct. 13 American Banker, Paul Edwards noted, "You interface with your software every day, but you don't interface with your banker every day."

This addresses the enormous opportunity and risk banks face in designing software and help-desk capabilities. The issues center on the degree to which the bank intends to be a "smart agent" for its customers, controlling the way they interact with a wide range of service and product vendors.

In some ways this is a new version of banks' traditional role as trusted intermediaries. But the opportunity will be lost if bankers do not seize the challenge and manage customer expectations and delivery effectively.

Entrepreneurs are not flocking to PC banking, but they are using it more. Bankers have time to organize their approach to electronic channels and protect core markets like small business.

However, the speed of PC adoption and the aggressive tactics of nonbank suppliers continue to shrink the window of opportunity.

PC banking may not be a major revenue source today, but it presents an opportunity to learn new ways to manage customer relationships, protect core franchises, and capture new sources of earnings.

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