Call it a toaster giveaway for the 1990s.

Meca Software Inc. is making it possible for banks to give their customers free copies of its Managing Your Money personal finance software.

The benevolence is aimed at boosting Meca's home-banking services by putting more copies of the software in circulation. The software company has only a fraction of the market share owned by Intuit Inc., which makes Quicken, and Microsoft Corp., which makes Money.

Paul D. Harrison, president and chief executive officer of Meca, said he took his cue from America Online Inc., the popular electronic network that has boosted membership by making its software ubiquitous.

"AOL has totally changed the paradigm in terms of how you market an on- line service," Mr. Harrison said.

That message was brought home during a recent airplane trip, Mr. Harrison said, when the flight attendants handed out a snack.

"In order to get to the peanuts, you had to open up a bag that had an AOL disk in it," he said. "That's our goal for Managing Your Money - to have it handed out on airplanes."

Until that happens, the software will be distributed in bank branches and through mailings. Banks will pay licensing fees only when a customer activates the software for electronic banking services.

"The product is fully usable on a stand-alone basis, even if you don't connect to the bank," Mr. Harrison said.

"The worst that happens is that they give their customers and potential customers a free product which has a $30 value," he said .

Mr. Harrison said Meca's bank owners were "very pleased," and saw the free software offer as "a way of getting a leg up on the competition."

"Banks are very receptive to things that are low risk, and this definitely is a low risk opportunity," he said.

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