NEEDHAM, Mass. - Electronic payment volume will surpass that of paper-based payment this year, TowerGroup predicts.

A report by the research firm and advisory says noncash payments now exceed $170 billion a year and will be $200 billion by 2003.

It did not give current or projected volumes for paper-based payments.

The report says wholesale and retail electronic commerce have fueled the growth of electronic payments and says the banking industry has spent $50 billion on information technology for basic payment processing in the last five years.

Banking spends $10.8 billion a year on payment processing, approximately 12% of its total expenditure on information technology, the report says.

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