The number of institutions letting customers perform banking transactions via the World Wide Web has almost doubled in the past two months thanks to a single software company.
Digital Insight of Camarillo, Calif., recently has helped nine credit unions offer their depositors account access through the Internet. These represent about half the 18 depository institutions currently offering such services, according to Online Banking Report, a newsletter that tracks Web offerings by such companies.
In the next few days, nine more credit unions are expected to begin allowing Web transactions through Digital Insight. And by the end of the year, 40 of the company's 100 customers will be able to offer Internet services - including bill payments - said company president Paul D. Fiore.
The number of commercial banks and thrifts with transaction-oriented sites also is expected to grow dramatically over the next several months.
But for the moment, credit unions appear to have leapfrogged their for- profit colleagues, demonstrating that small size can be an advantage in the fast-changing world of on-line banking.
Because credit unions are so numerous and often operate limited numbers of branches, they are prime candidates for Web Insight's ready-made Web services.
In addition, credit unions tend to be less bureaucratic than larger banks and thrifts, Mr. Fiore said. Getting approval on a contract between his firm and a large or midsize bank can take "several months between initial contact and reaching the person at the right level of authority."
But "with credit unions, the decision-making process is easier," he said.
Digital Insight's clients range in size from the $60 million-asset Mutual Credit Union in Vicksburg, Miss., to the $1.2 billion-asset Star One Federal Credit Union in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Community Credit Union of Plano, Tex., was the first Digital Insight customer to offer Internet banking to the public in March.
It was soon followed by others, including Applied Physics Laboratory Federal Credit Union in Laurel, Md., which said 12% of its depositors use its Web-based banking services after only two months of operation.
What these and other Digital Insight clients share is a desire to meet their customers' needs while also holding the line on operational costs.
"Our members have been asking for electronic access," said Gary Base, president of Community Credit Union, which serves high-tech workers in the Dallas area.
The first step in building a Web site through Digital Insight is registering an Internet address - a task the company handles for its clients.
Since credit unions typically are not large enough to run separate computer systems for the Internet, Digital Insight runs their Web sites. A standard site costs about $30,000, plus a $2 fee per user.
Credit union depositors seeking account information enter a security code on Internet browser software that verifies their identity to Digital Insight's computers. Digital Insight's system then connects to the credit union over a private data network.
"There is no data on our system about the individual customers," said Mr. Fiore. Because customer data and the Web site reside on different computers, the need for elaborate security systems is eliminated, he said.
"There are quite a few people building Web sites, but Digital Insight is the first company that went after financial institutions," said James Bruene, editor of Online Banking Report.
"They made a template that works. It is attractive, fast, and easy to navigate."
Mr. Fiore - who in recent years has worked for a credit union and for a data base software firm - said his professional experience has convinced him that "everyone would be better off" with consumer banking services that make use of browser technology and the Internet.