Beating rival BankBoston Corp., Fleet Financial Group has announced the availability of an Internet banking service.

BankBoston officials said they have been testing their site for a month and are preparing to launch it within two weeks.

Officials at both banks said their new Web-based "channels" would complement existing options available by telephone and through dial-up personal computer software.

Fleet will continue to support 125,000 customers who use the PC program Managing Your Money from Meca Software LLC, of which Fleet is an owner.

BankBoston will similarly support the 250,000 users it has enrolled since 1996 in HomeLink, available through a private dial-up connection. These on-line customers represent 20% of the $71 billion-asset bank's customer base.

"Although customers can continue to use HomeLink through a private network, the Internet gives them more mobility and flexibility," BankBoston spokesman Bruce E. Spitzer said.

Both these large New England banks have been slower to the Net than $1 billion-asset Salem Five Cents Savings Bank.

More than a year ago, the Salem, Mass., thrift launched a transactional Web site with technology support from M&I Data Services and Security First Technologies. Nearly 10% of its customer accounts are using the Internet or dial-up software.

"We may have a competitive advantage as a community bank, at least in the beginning," said Michael R. Fitzgerald, senior vice president at Salem Five.

"I can count on my hands the number who were customers before" the bank started on-line banking, he said. "If not for the Internet, we couldn't compete for these customers."

Fleet officials added transactional capabilities, including bill payment, to their Web site after three months of prototype testing.

"We have pragmatically waited for the demand to be driven by our customers, many of whom have asked for Web banking," said David Fingerman, vice president for on-line financial services at $98 billion-asset Fleet. "Our focus has not been doing it first, but doing it right."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.