Bankers are tentative and confused about the Internet and how they should set strategy for it. (Their conundrum is the taking-off point of Thomas Vartanian's article on page 4A.) But that has not prevented them from herding into a staging area for what is shaping up as a massive on- line invasion - though at a somewhat measured pace.

One of the latest indications is Datapro Information Services Group's annual survey of bank information technology executives around the world.

In the first quarter of 1996, only 7% of the 659 respondents - two- thirds of them U.S.-based - were offering Internet banking services. But five times that many planned to do so by next year.

Similarly, 59% said they will have implemented any kind of PC banking service by 1997, up from 19% this year.

Looking at personal computers and the World Wide Web as both marketing and service-delivery enhancements, bankers are realizing "they must respond more quickly to new and emerging technologies if they are to remain competitive and retain customers," said analyst Jannette Alston of Delran, N.J.-based Datapro. "With the rapid proliferation of ATM networks, phone banking, and now PC and Web-based options, the notion of the virtual bank is quickly becoming a reality."

Along the same lines, NetMarquee Online Services Inc. of Needham, Mass., recently completed a survey showing a majority of banks with Web sites are eager to upgrade their offerings. Many reported slow traffic, a consequence of their static, billboard-like content. Only 5% of the more than 100 respondents said they had actively advertised to attract Web surfers.

"Bank Web sites that provide engaging and regularly updated content give visitors a reason to return," said NetMarquee president David Gumpert. "Once banks upgrade their content, they need to use advertising and promotion to increase traffic."

He said the marketing and management commitments grow in proportion to bank size.

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