WASHINGTON — Roger W. Ferguson Jr., vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, cautioned fellow regulators Friday to give financial institutions leeway to develop and use technologies, such as those for providing services over the Internet.

“This is an area with great potential, yet the uncertainties are large, and the payoff horizon is unknown,” Mr. Ferguson said in a speech at a St. Louis University conference on financial services issues. “Banks and supervisors need to recognize that it is acceptable — and even expected — to make some investments that do not pay off.”

He also cautioned top bank executives to be aware, before making large technology investments, that the benefits can take years to materialize, if they ever do. “Given the size, complexity, and business risk of many modern technology investments, these investments clearly should be a top-management interest and are a top-management responsibility,” he said.

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