Fleet Financial Group said it can now enable small companies to accept payments from their customers over the Internet.

The new service, called Storefronts Fleet, also sets up Web sites for small businesses.

In addition, the service can create a catalogue of a small firm's products and put it on line along with an order form and purchasing instructions.

"The Internet presents a massive, burgeoning opportunity for our customers and we are very excited about helping them access it," said Norman J. DeLuca, managing director of Fleet's business and entrepreneurial services group.

Boston-based Fleet will also register a small firm's Internet address with major search engines, process transaction reports, and provide support to help maintain the company's Web site.

Fleet, which has $85.5 billion of assets, expects to charge a one-time site setup fee ranging from $995 to $1,495, depending on the complexity of the site.

The bank also plans to bill participating companies $99 to $249 monthly, based on the number of products the business uses its site to promote and the number of transactions processed.

During an initial pilot program, the bank will cut its prices in half for the first 100 businesses that sign up for the Internet service, a bank spokesman said.

Fleet expects the service will appeal particularly to retailers, but to a wide variety of them, those selling anything from clothing to gardening products. About 15,000 of the bank's 400,000 small-business customers now use the bank's merchant credit-card processing services and would be likely candidates for the Internet service, a spokesman said.

Fleet is a major small-business lender, but lost ground last year. The bank had $3.1 billion outstanding in small-business loans as of midyear 1997, a 6% decline from midyear 1996, according to Sheshunoff Information Services.

But Fleet recently revamped a quarter of its 1,200 branches to better serve small businesses and last year introduced same-day approval for loans of less than $50,000.

"We aspire to continue to be in a leading position in that marketplace," Mr. DeLuca said. "We're looking to leverage our expertise to help small businesses grow."

Blaise Heltai, director of Fleet's on-line financial services group, said no other bank offers a similar service. Fleet will work with CyberCash Inc. and VeriSign Inc. to make sure the transactions are secure.

Though many Internet service providers set up Web pages, Mr. Heltai said some businesses would feel more secure with a bank handling their financial transactions.

Fleet introduced the small-business service at a well-attended Internet commerce trade show held in Boston last week.

The bank said it would promote Storefronts Fleet using direct mail and branch displays.

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