Fleet Financial Group has established a beachhead on the World Wide Web.

It is the beginning of what Fleet, which has been preoccupied with the recent acquisitions of Shawmut National Corp. and National Westminster Bancorp, is touting as Project Cybersail, in keeping with the company's nautical name.

As part of the effort, Fleet is giving its checking customers copies of Managing Your Money, the personal finance system from Meca Software Inc., of which Boston-based Fleet is a part-owner.

"With the merger, the new Fleet has been necessarily internally focused," said Robert B. Hedges, the former Shawmut executive who is spearheading Fleet's electronic initiatives as senior vice president of direct financial services.

Coming in the midst of significant post-merger consolidations - the Natwest deal is still pending - the electronic delivery systems give Fleet new ways to serve its four million retail customers.

These efforts should not have much of an immediate financial impact on the bank, said Thomas Theurkauf, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. But, he added, they might help the bank appease customers upset by branch closings or post-merger changes, and it could help strengthen ties to them.

"The challenge for Fleet, arguably, is not getting more penetration," Mr. Theurkauf said, "but to sell more services to its existing customer base."

The Web site (http://www.fleet.com) starts out as primarily a marketing tool, giving on-line browsers information about Fleet's products and services. But Mr. Hedges said the bank will be expanding the content within six to nine months to incorporate interactive services like retirement planning.

David Lott, an analyst for Dove Associates, a Boston consulting firm, gave Fleet "high marks" for the site's presentation and its "Personal Navigator."

The navigator, which the bank claims is exclusive, allows browsers to tailor their own home pages on the Fleet site, saving information for future visits. This feature also incorporates tools such as financial calculators and budget worksheets.

"All the banks are moving toward a more interactive process," Mr. Lott said.

Aside from the bank's investment in Meca - with which Fleet could set up a proprietary service - Mr. Hedges also sees the need for more open systems.

"The openness of the Internet is what it's all about," he said.

Along with First Bank System Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada, Fleet bought an unspecified stake in Meca in November 1995. NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. had initially acquired Meca in May 1995.

"With the merger and the name change behind us, it's nice to be on the offensive again," Mr. Hedges said.


First Union Corp. said Wednesday that it has become the first bank to publish its annual report on a CD-ROM.

Bank officials said the First Union CD-ROM, a compact disk that can be read by personal computers, will be sent to shareholders and interested customers. In addition to the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank's annual report, the CD-ROM contains an interactive, multimedia corporate overview, as well as "browser" software so PC users can roam the Internet, officials said.

First Union executives added the CD-ROM product was produced for about one-third the cost of its paper-based annual report. - Brian Tracey

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