SAN FRANCISCO - Financial electronic data interchange over the automated clearinghouse network grew 21.5% last year, to more than 96 million transactions, Nacha, the electronic payments association said Monday.

The association attributed the growth to the increase in business-to-business transactions conducted over the Internet.

"B-to-B on the Internet is contributing to the growth of financial EDI, because payments still need to be made, no matter how the transaction is originated," said William B. Nelson, Nacha's executive vice president.

Financial EDI is the exchange of payments, payment-related information, or financial-related documents between business partners. Data are transmitted with the payment.

The total volume of corporate electronic payments over the ACH network - including business-to-business, government-to-business, and non-EDI - rose 10.3%, to more than 902 million.

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