Internet-only banks took four of the top five positions in the latest quarterly ranking of Internet banking sites from Gomez Advisors Inc.

Wells Fargo & Co. was the only bank with branches ranked among the top five. The others in the group were Security First Network Bank in first place, Net.Bank, First Internet Bank of Indiana, and Wells placed second.

Internet-only banks have fared well because they are "focused on the Internet," said Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Gomez. For people prepared to use the Web to manage their financial lives, "Internet banks have created a convenience that is missing from traditional banks," he said. Benefits include passing on savings to customers through attractive rates and lower costs.

Wells scored highly because its customer service representatives have "more understanding about how Internet banking works," unlike most traditional banks, Mr. Musto said. "Wells has a strong philosophy about customer service and building up customer confidence in general," he said. For example, the bank makes explicit guarantees about computer-related fraud and helps customers gain access to customer service through the Web interface.

Wells led the "relationship services" category by handling requests such as check reorders and change of address notifications through its Web site. It also won the top spot for ease of use.

Gomez ranks 78 banks that offer access to checking accounts with bill payment services, the minimum requirement for inclusion in the rankings. With the addition of PNC Bank last quarter, 68% of the top 50 U.S. retail banks now offer such services.

Security First has held on to the top spot for three consecutive quarters "because it has bent over backwards for its customers," Mr. Musto said.

It offers an integrated suite of deposit and credit card products with on-line applications, lifetime account histories, and competitive pricing through an easy-to-use interface, according to the Gomez report. Security First also fills out applications for customers opening additional accounts and offers telephone service around the clock.

Net.Bank's arsenal included loans, credit cards, and savings accounts with aggressive rates. "Net.Bank's bill payment offering is among the most simple and efficient available," Mr. Musto said. But its telephone customer service record is mixed, he said.

First Internet Bank of Indiana had the richest resources on its site, with products such as interactive applications, lifetime account histories, and rapid delivery of bill payments. It also supplies digital copies of checks and bills.

Bank One Corp.'s won the top award for assisting customers interested in researching, applying for, and maintaining a credit relationship. It offers a combination of credit cards, installment loans, and credit lines. "Wingspan is starting to deliver on its positioning as a broad, net-centric financial solutions provider," Mr. Musto said.

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