Officials at Commerce Bancorp, Cherry Hill, N.J., said consumer acceptance of its PC-based home banking service has far exceeded early expectations.

More than 10,000 of the $2.4 billion bank's 200,000 customers have used Commerce On-Line in its first five months of operation, according to a spokesman.

"We are surprised by the results, because our expectations were based on the industry standard of 1% to 2%," said Dennis M. Di Florio, executive vice president of Commerce Bank. "In our wildest dreams, we didn't think we'd get 5%," he said.

Recent surveys predict four million to 16 million households will be banking with personal computers from home by 2000. Surveys place the current number of households doing PC banking at 500,000 to one million.

Observers said Commerce Bank's experience demonstrates that smaller banks can get in on the home banking boom.

"This is an excellent example of how a small bank with limited resources can decide to go on-line," said Phoebe Simpson, an analyst with the New York-based Jupiter Communications Co.

"A lot of banks don't have confidence in their technological abilities, and a lot of software companies have stepped in and provided turnkey services."

Commerce On-Line is based on software designed by CFI Proservices Inc. of Portland, Ore.

The software, which is distributed free of charge to customers, lets users transfer funds in real time and does not require them to use additional software, such as Intuit Inc.'s Quicken or Microsoft Corp.'s Money.

Partnering with CFI also lets Commerce make its brand name a prominent part of its service. Some bankers have complained that this is difficult to do when running home banking through Quicken or Money.

Commerce On-Line users get access to electronic bill-paying services for $5 per month, and bank officials said 60% of those using the software use the bill-payment function.

"They are following the McDonald's strategy," said Elizabeth A. Summers, a bank analyst with Ryan, Beck & Co. in New Jersey. "They are always asking what customers want and what they are willing to pay."

Commerce Bank's results come as some bank analysts are growing skeptical of predictions that the number of PC-based home banking users will break into the multimillion-user level in the near future.

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