As a step toward achieving that, both National InterBank and Juniper Financial Corp. have made deals with Mail Boxes Etc., turning the 3,400-office franchise system into an ersatz branch network. Bank clients would drop their non-cash deposits off at MBE offices, and the deposits would be forwarded overnight to the bank by UPS at no cost to depositors.

National InterBank has been in business for about a year, and according to co-CEO J. Randall Waterfield, it has about $85 million in assets. Juniper, which is being organized by former executives of First USA, the credit card company that was sold to Bank One Corp. several years ago, is expected to be launched in the near future.

The primary purpose for signing up the MBE stores is to provide a physical location at which customers of the Internet banks could leave their deposits. If using MBE works, it's a great solution. But it's not clear that it will satisfy people's thirst for whatever it is they're seeking.

Mail Boxes Etc. is just what its name describes: a place to send and receive mail. If a consumer is reluctant to deposit a check in his or her Internet bank through the United States Postal Service, why would he or she be any more willing to do it through MBE? It would be a bit more understandable if MBE offices were to accept cash and provide the depositor with a receipt, but it doesn't.

And that would raise questions, too. Aside from possible legal questions about accepting deposits for an out-of-state bank, would people feel confident about leaving cash with a Mail Boxes clerk? And the cost for MBE could be prohibitive, considering all the training and security accepting cash would require.

National InterBank's Waterfield compares Internet banking to the introduction of ATMs. "It's hard to change consumer behavior," he says. He points out that people are used to the ability to visit physical locations, adding that MBE is an "interim step" toward the time when customers will be happy to deal in cyberspace alone.

According to Waterfield, MBE offices are ubiquitous, and UPS has a strong and trusted brand name and provides a tracking number. "It's another delivery channel," he says. "We need as many touch points as possible."


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