Banks are pairing up with Internet portals in increasing numbers.

Bank of America Corp. said Tuesday it would let customers in California gain access to their account information via MyYahoo and YahooFinance Web sites.

The Charlotte, N.C., banking company - along with American Express Financial Advisors, Charles Schwab & Co., and Citigroup Inc.-also began making various services available Wednesday through Microsoft Corp.'s MSN MoneyCentral site.

Last week, WingspanBank.com, the Internet offshoot of Bank One Corp., announced the signing of a multiyear cobranding agreement worth up to $135 million with the Internet portal Lycos Inc.

Banks are entering into partnerships with portals because "they want to be where the customers are," said Cynthia Montgomery, senior associate at Dove Associates in Boston.

The spate of announcements follows a pattern set last fall, first by Citigroup through an agreement with Netscape Communications Corp.'s NetCenter, and then by Bank One with Excite Inc. At the time, officials at other banks including Bank of America said they would take a "wait-and-see" attitude toward striking similar deals.

Though the financial terms of the latest set of deals were not disclosed, banks generally pay the portals based on the number of new customers they attract.

With 1.4 million Internet banking customers, the most of any bank, Bank of America may be in a position to pursue an alternate strategy-that of becoming its own financial services Internet portal.

Robert J. Landry, group director at Needham, Mass.-based Tower Group, said banks' "greatest opportunity" on the Internet is to do just that. Only a small number of very large banks will be able to afford to partner with portals, he said.

Some banks, including Philadelphia-based USABanc.com, have stated their intentions of becoming portals with offerings related to financial services and beyond.

But some analysts see this as overreaching. Banks have no "real business thinking about that," said Bill Doyle, director at Forrester Research in Cambridge Mass. "Banks don't have people on staff who are used to building and keeping the attention of an audience."

Octavio Marenzi, research director at Newton, Mass.- based Meridien Research, said it is "ridiculous" for banks to aspire to be portals. "I'm not going to sit on my bank's Web site all day as opposed to a Yahoo," he said.

Through the Yahoo service, expected to be rolled out gradually over the summer, Bank of America customers will be able to view checking and savings account balances and activity, transaction histories, and credit card account data. Yahoo users also can link to Bank of America's Web site for bill payment and on-line transfers.

Michael DeVico, executive vice president of Bank of America, said the Yahoo agreement would give the bank exposure to a broader audience.

Bank of America's arrangement with Microsoft is aimed at giving the five million MoneyCentral users access to various products, services, and financial decision-making tools.

Schwab will allow MoneyCentral users to participate in interactive discussions and request analyses on companies. American Express will offer advice on retirement, education planning, taxes, small-business ownership, and year-2000 preparation. Citigroup will offer research reports and Internet banking, brokerage, bill payment, credit cards, auto and home insurance, and mortgages.

The four new participants join Merrill Lynch & Co., which has offered customized advice and equity research on MoneyCentral since last November.

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