Signet Banking Corp. has started to display student lending information on the Internet, a vital first step in moving toward a fully electronic college lending system.
The Baltimore-based company has posted about 150 pages of information on its student lending services and procedures, as well as data on state and federal scholarships and grants and the overall college application and loan process.
Observers said other banks have made information regarding student loan services available as part of their home page listings on the Internet, but Signet officials contend that theirs is the most comprehensive such directory of student lending information, both bank-specific and general.
A number of financial institutions have made noises about fully automating the loan process, but federal regulations prohibit applying for a student loan over computer networks.
While lending institutions - most notably a coalition of large banks known as the Educational Loan Management Partners - work out the future of computerized lending, making information accessible via the Internet is an important move that banks can make now.
"Right now, we're still stuck with the need for paper with a signature on it," said Rob Krupicka, an educational funding and business analyst for Signet. "But this is the first step toward where we're going."
Signet also provides customer service via electronic mail. Consumers who mail a question to the bank are guaranteed a response by the end of the business day, Mr. Krupicka said.
Officials at Signet and other banks see the Internet as perhaps the best way to reach its more than 10 million users of high school and college age.
On the Internet, banks can more easily adjust information as federal regulations change and potential borrowers can more quickly find information without having to go to the library, or order books, Mr. Krupicka said.