Bankers who are betting that consumers do not care about face-to-face service are wrong, according to a new study.

In a telephone survey of 2,000 consumers in 10 countries, the importance of service “came through loud and clear,” said Mike Mulhern, who wrote Deloitte Consulting’s “Myth versus Reality” study, released this month.

Consumers consider personal, responsive service very important, the new study found. By contrast, a two-year-old Deloitte study found financial providers are more likely to tout 24-hour account access, new products, and lower fees.

That study, for which 133 senior executives in 17 countries were interviewed, found a widespread belief that personal contact at branches and sales offices was becoming less important.

But Mr. Mulhern, a principal in Deloitte’s financial services practice, said customers still want banks to have “a brick-and-mortar presence.”

And though the executives had predicted that consumers would soon demand online financial services, in the new study one-third to one-half of the consumers in each country said that they did not log on to a Web site to do their banking, nor did they expect to.

“They’re not convinced the service capabilities are there,” Mr. Mulhern said.

That should be a lesson for banks, he said. “If they want to migrate their customers to the Internet, they need to make sure the service is … better than in the offline world,” or at least comparable, he said.

Providing personal service while keeping costs under control is one of the greatest challenges facing banks, according to the consumer study. Many consumers said Internet banking services lack the personal touch they are used to receiving from familiar personnel at the branch.

“Banks are struggling with this issue,” Mr. Mulhern said.

On a positive note for the financial companies, more than 75% of consumers in each country said they were not interested in obtaining financial products from such nontraditional providers as Microsoft Corp., Lufthansa, Walt Disney, Sony, and Virgin. Two years ago many executives had identified nontraditional providers as their greatest competitive threat.

The consumer study also suggested that banks should hone their cross-selling skills. Roughly half of the consumers in each country said they were likely to look first to their current providers if they needed a new financial product.

“Individuals tend to want to look first at their primary provider for new products,” Mr. Mulhern said.

In another study released last week,.Dove Consulting and S1 Corp., a leading provider of Internet banking software and services, found that 73% of consumers opened or maintained an account with a particular institution mainly because of the breadth and scope of its online banking services.

But Mr. Mulhern said the S1/Dove results do not contradict what Deloitte found

“Customers are reluctant to use the Internet because they don’t believe service is up to par,” he said. “Yet those on the Internet are happy with the service. The trick is to get those who aren’t there to feel the same way as those who are.”

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