WASHINGTON - The number of national banks offering transactional services via the Internet more than tripled last year, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported Thursday.

Customers were able to move money between accounts and conduct other business via the Internet at 20% of national banks in 1999, up from 6% a year earlier.

That growth is only the tip of the iceberg, said the OCC, which predicted 45% will provide online transactional services by next year.

Though many experts have foreseen electronic banking as a potential equalizer for small banks trying to compete with financial services conglomerates, the 20-page study showed that size still matters.

Large national banks are more likely to offer Internet banking services than smaller banks. Every national bank with more than $10 billion of assets offered Internet services, compared with only 7% of banks under $100 million of assets.

Still, the bulk of growth is expected to come from community banks. The study predicted that the percentage of small banks offering such transactional service will more than triple by next year, to 25%.

Nearly all banks that are online offered balance inquiry and fund transfer capabilities, but large banks were more likely to offer additional services like electronic bill payment and credit applications. The report predicted a 500% increase in banks offering online cash management services, a 280% increase in online insurance offerings, and a 200% increase in the number of banks offering electronic bill payment.

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