First Hawaiian Bank of Honolulu may soon begin offering its customers banking by television.

The bank is negotiating with Oceanic Cable of Honolulu to develop an interactive TV banking service that would use Oceanic's digital television format, according to Don Horner, vice chairman of retail operations at First Hawaiian. The $7 billion-asset bank is a subsidiary of BancWest Corp, which is 45% owned by Banque Nationale de Paris.

Mr. Horner said it is premature to discuss details of the plan. But if a deal is struck, First Hawaiian would be the only bank in the United States whose customers could check accounts and do transactions through their television sets.

The TV banking service would probably mimic many features of the bank's Web site, which lets customers see account balances, transfer money, and apply for new accounts. Bank customers would use their remote control as a keypad to do account transactions.

Earlier attempts to introduce TV banking in the United States have failed. In 1996, Time Warner Inc. teamed up with the former Barnett Banks Inc. to test a TV banking service in Orlando. But the two scrapped the project a year later, citing a lack of maturity in the interactive TV market. (Barnett was later bought by what is now Bank of America Corp.)

Bank of America also tried TV banking and failed, said Jaime Punishill, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Group in Cambridge, Mass.

"We trashed them for trying that," Mr. Punishill said. He added that, though interactive TV may work for some things - ordering products shown in commercials, for example - he and his colleagues are not convinced that people will want to balance their checkbooks using their television sets.

"Watching TV is a passive medium - people are looking to relax," Mr. Punishill said.

With a personal computer, on the other hand, "people are looking for mental stimulation, and they purposely go on PCs to do something, including work," he said. "They are in the mood to balance their checkbooks."

TV banking may be a hit in other countries, however, Mr. Punishill said. "In places like Britain, where interactive TV has taken off in lieu of PCs, then you get a different argument from me."

Last month London-based Abbey National Bank PLC announced that it plans to expand its banking service on the British shopping channel Open to include transaction capability. In June bank customers will be able to check account balances, pay bills, transfer money, arrange for recurring bill payments, and amend overdraft limits by digital TV.

Customers can already browse Abbey's menu of services and make appointments with bank employees on the Open channel, which runs on the Sky Television satellite network. Abbey plans to offer a similar service through a partnership with the British cable company Telewest Communications.

TV banking has a better chance of taking hold in Britain than online banking does because 98% of U.K. households have televisions but only 30% have personal computers, according to Ambrose McGinn, Abbey's director of retail electronic commerce. About 6.1% of U.K. households had digital TV last year, but 36.4% are projected to have it by 2003.

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