The Internet is experiencing some growing pains, but it is still a great delivery channel for banks, speakers at American Banker's recent on-line banking conference said.

The use of the World Wide Web and related consumer on-line services - only two years ago the province of computer hobbyists and academics - has grown fast. There are more than 15 million users in the United States, according to a recent study by Jupiter Communications.

Of this these users, more than half manage some part of their finances on their personal computers, but only 2.1 million use some type of on-line banking service.

"This indicates a tremendous state of market readiness" for Internet- based banking services, said Adam Schoenfeld, vice president of publishing at Jupiter.

He added that research found that 2.5 million Internet users were very likely to sign up for on-line banking within the next 12 months.

But some bankers attending the conference expressed concern that the World Wide Web will be overloaded as millions of users log on each day.

These fears were fed recently by reports that many Web surfers looking for Election Day results encountered frequent on-line traffic jams.

"The Web is not yet ready for prime time," said James S. "Chip" Mahan, chief executive officer of Security First Network Bank, an all-Internet bank based in Atlanta.

Mr. Mahan said that even with the fastest PC modems on the market, the Web "is still too slow and too clunky" for most consumers.

However, Mr. Schoenfeld said that even though some consumers interviewed for the Jupiter study said the unreliability of the Web was an impediment, bankers should not sit on their hands.

"We found that consumers are very willing to use nonbanks to get electronic financial services," he said.

"There's no magic bullet for the bandwidth problem, but we're saying that banks need to get started (with Internet-based banking) now. Otherwise, nonbanks could take the business from them."

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