Salem Five Cents Savings Bank has added banking by personal computer to its list of home-based services.

PC banking is an increasingly common service, but relatively few institutions of Salem's size - under $1 billion in assets - offer it.

The Salem, Mass.-based thrift is rolling out the PC component of its remote banking platform to all its customers. Salem Five already offers banking and information services through touch-tone telephones and over the Internet.

The move is indicative of the rapidly expanding market for electronic financial services.

Most of the country's largest banks have in the past year been racing to offer on-line services, many through partnerships with the likes of Intuit Inc. or Microsoft Corp.

But some see the onslaught of electronic banking services as a particular boon to the smaller banks - a great equalizer that will allow them to compete on a broader scale with more formidable rivals.

"All banks are cutting costs, and electronic banking is very cost efficient," said William H. Mitchelson, chairman and chief executive of Salem Five. "This is a megatrend."

Salem Five is one of a handful of financial institutions to work with Interactive Transaction Partners, a remote banking venture owned by Electronic Data Systems Corp., France Telecom, and US West.

Using the back-end platform and front-end software developed by ITP, Salem Five's customers can pay bills, transfer funds, make loan payments, and check out account information by personal computer or telephone.

The thrift has tested its PC offering with 60 of its 27,000 customer households over the past four months.

Based on national averages, Mr. Mitchelson estimated that one-fifth of Salem Five's customer base owns a personal computer. Only a small fraction of these currently use personal finance software.

Unlike the recently announced plans of the several banks teaming with Intuit and Microsoft to offer on-line banking, Mr. Mitchelson said that Salem Five's PC-based services are available immediately.

The bank partners of the two leading personal finance software makers, including Chemical Banking Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., will begin offering on-line access early this fall, when upgrades of Microsoft's Money and Intuit's Quicken are due for release.

Salem Five intends to offer an interface to Quicken by the end of this month, Mr. Mitchelson said.

Salem Five was the first financial institution in New England to set up a site on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet in April of this year.

The site includes more than 100 pages of information about Salem Five, and Mr. Mitchelson said that it has received about 27,000 inquiries since it was posted.

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