ING Direct has quietly introduced a savings vehicle for the under-18 market.

The U.S. online banking unit of the Dutch company ING Group NV released in October its Kids Savings Account, which children must open with their parents. It lets them save and view balances online.

They can make deposits and withdrawals with parental guidance, but the account's transactional capabilities are turned off.

"We had a demand for products that would serve the needs of kids," said Todd Sandler, the head of product strategy at ING in Wilmington, Del. "We thought we could launch the Kids Savings Account to teach them the value of money, help them set financial priorities, develop a savings mentality and give them a financial head start."

In doing so, ING is fleshing out its previous online offerings in a specialty market aimed at children.

"Kids are not profitable in and of themselves, so banks are looking to expand their relationships and get the parents involved," said Karen Massey, a senior analyst for IDC Financial Insights in Framingham, Mass.

ING has 400,000 people younger than 18 saving through joint accounts, out of 8 million savings account customers in the United States. ING also has a children's website, called Planet Orange, that gets hundreds of thousands of hits per month from people checking its cartoon-enhanced financial literacy content.

Massey pointed to a host of banks with similar children's offerings, including Valley National Bancorp and Salem Five Cents Savings Bank.

In the case of ING, the annual percentage yield is 1.1%, and a child can get started with as little as a penny.

Valley National has 71,000 savings accounts under its Kids First Savings Club Account name. Unlike ING's product, it is a passbook account that the customer must open at a branch, said Marc Piro, the vice president of marketing at the Wayne, N.J., company.

Like ING, Valley National has a website with financial literacy videos; it uses cartoon characters named Val and Lee to teach the lessons.

"It is very popular with our audience, and we have promoted it and marketed it a lot over the years," Piro said.

Salem Five, in Salem, Mass., introduced its Gold Star Saver account for children in 2009. The accounts are no-fee and have no balance requirement. "The purpose of this is not to make money from the accounts — we are actually losing money from the servicing fees," said Martha Acworth, Salem Five's chief marketing officer. "We are building relationships with families in the community."