National Westminster Bancorp has launched a service that will allow small businesses to access their banking accounts and manage their finances through personal computers.

Called Natwest Business Express, the 24-hour service enables business owners to move money between accounts, monitor all account activity, make internal and wire transfers, reconcile accounts, and stop payments on checks.

"Natwest Business Express provides customers with rapid access to their business accounts when and where they choose," said Donald Schwartz, senior vice president of the Jersey City-based bank. "The service keeps them in touch with their money so they have more time to devote to their businesses."

The Windows-based product - developed by a software vendor the bank declined to name - was tested in February in the bank's northern New Jersey service area and is being rolled out to the Natwest's 330 branches in New York and New Jersey beginning this week.

Like other financial institutions, $29 billion-asset Natwest is working to provide customers with multiple types of electronic access to accounts and bank representatives.

The financial industry in general is attempting to satisfy customer demand for convenience and reduced operating costs by providing banking through such channels as telephones, PCs, interactive television, and automated teller machines.

At the same time, banks are expanding their physical presence with branches in supermarkets, malls, airports, and other nontraditional high- traffic areas.

On the commercial side, most interaction between banks and customers still depends on the telephone, paper, and in-person visits, but banks are undergoing a rapid shift to electronic delivery.

In a 1994 report on technology in banking, Tower Group, the American Banker, and Andersen Consulting jointly projected that by the year 2000 some 57% of all interaction between commercial clients and banks will be electronic, a dramatic increase from 1993's 20%.

Natwest, which has had a cash management service in place for large business clients for a number of years, developed Business Express in response to requests from small business customers for better financial management tools, said Mr. Schwartz.

The bank has already signed on 28 customers, which far exceeds initial expectations, he said.

The fee for the service, based on usage and transactions, can be reduced if customers keep high balances, said Mr. Schwartz.

Other alternative delivery channels the bank has developed include a 24- hour telephone service that allows customers to perform basic transactions through an automated system or with a bank representative.

Natwest is also testing an interactive television service in Monmouth County, N.J., that allows the bank to sell mortgages. Consumers are able to view information on financial products, and can see and consult with salespeople.

The bank, working with Comcast Cable Communications Inc., wants to put the service into 5,000 households and real estate agencies this year.

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