Some pioneering customers of Internet banks say personalized, efficient customer service is one benefit.
"People think because it is an Internet bank, it is impersonal," said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, a customer of Security First Network Bank for two and a half years.
As a resident of San Francisco, he has never set foot in Atlanta-based Security First. Nonetheless, he said, "I have a more personalized relationship" than at the "impersonal and bureaucratic chain" where he previously banked.
In one of two instances when Security First Network went above and beyond the call, he said, it sent a new ATM card via Federal Express when his wallet was stolen. Another time Security First Network called his credit card company to ensure that a required payment would be received by 9 a.m. the next day.
Robert C. Apperson of New Port Richey, Fla., said he thought service was better at Arlington, Va.-based Telebank, where he has banked for more than a year, than at regular banks.
The Telebank representatives "were so nice and helpful, I opened a savings and two interest checking accounts," he said.
"They work at it. All I have to do is dial an 800-number or deposit money by mail with a postage-paid envelope the bank sends."
Mr. Apperson, who works part-time on an Internet site that sells a wide variety of merchandise, said he also likes the convenience of having his checking account detail on the computer screen.
"It's like you are inside the bank," he said.
Mark Bell, a customer at First Internet Bank of Indiana since February, said, "They made me feel welcome."
Mr. Bell, a technical trainer, said being able to immediately transfer funds at any hour has been useful in planning his wedding. "I can transfer money into my account on a Saturday and go shopping and the money is already there," he said.
Internet banking customers are still rare, though. About 1.65 million people banked on-line in 1999, up from 1.04 million in 1998, and 550,000 in 1997, according to Meridien Research. The Needham, Mass.-based firm predicts the number of on-line banking customers will reach 2.51 million by 2000.
Currently more households trade than bank over the Internet-2.2 million, according to Forrester Research Inc.
Recognizing that, Security First Network recently tried to jazz up its offering with a no-fee 6%-interest checking account, available until April 15, 2000.
"Compared to $14.95 trades with on-line brokers, bank offerings don't usually excite people," said Eric W. Hartz, president. "We wanted to come up with a break-out rate," he said.
Since announcing the rate two months ago, the bank has added 6,000 accounts to the 15,000 it had.
Customers say some downsides to Internet banking are having to wait to receive deposit envelopes. And some banks charge $1.50 for using automated teller machines to get cash.
But those appear to be minor points compared with the ability to live a digital lifestyle. Mr. Franklin-Hodge, a software engineer, said he likes the convenience of being able to bank and pay bills anytime, anywhere.
"I am so much more organized," he said.
Plus he tired of the feeling that "everything my former bank did was for profit, regardless if it cost them money or even saved them money," he said. For example, his former bank charged him to check his balance at the ATM.
At Security First Network, "they know me and they do the small things that a larger bank won't, like cover a check," he said. "It's the province of the global village."