London-based Abbey National PLC says it will soon become one of the world's first banks to offer account management over digital television.

"We pretty well dominate in this," said Ambrose McGinn, director of retail electronic commerce at the $288 million-asset bank.

Abbey introduced a retail financial Web site - without transaction features - in November on the shopping channel Open, which is run by the satellite-based Sky Television network.

"We kicked off our service with a shopping and browsing facility," Mr. McGinn said. Through that system, users can set up telephone appointments with Abbey staff members.

They can also request bank information, and 30,000 such requests have been received, Mr. McGinn said. "As a result, we've sold mortgages, banking accounts and personal loans," he said.

Transaction capability will be introduced on the Open platform in June.

Users will then be able to check account balances, pay bills, transfer money, arrange for recurring bill payments, and amend overdraft limits by digital TV.

And by yearend Abbey expects to be offering similar service to 500,000 living rooms through a partnership with a British cable company, Telewest Communications.

The bank's service will be better than what was shown in earlier trials of television banking in the United States, Mr. McGinn said. Time Warner Inc. and Barnett Banks Inc. began an interactive cable television pilot in Orlando in 1996 but scratched it at the end of 1997 - shortly before what is now Bank of America Corp. bought Barnett.

The test indicated that interactive television had some maturing to do before it many people would use it.

Mr. McGinn said television is a better way than the computer to bring banking to U.K. homes. Ninety-eight percent of them have televisions; only 30% have PCs.

As in the United States, digital television is still scarcer the United Kingdom, but fast growth is predicted.

Only 6.1% of U.K. households had digital TVs last year, it has been estimated, but 36.4% are projected to have it in 2003.

Digital television involves faster data transmission than conventional TV. Various interactive services are offered in the United Kingdom, including home shopping, home banking, online travel booking, Internet access, e-mail, games, and information services. Consumers buy set-top boxes from their television providers and pay a subscription for a package of services. Abbey's banking information comes free.

Digital TV, via satellite and cable, is part of the bank's "clicks and mortar" approach.

"I believe the U.K. is the world leader in this field," Mr. McGinn said. "We have built the infrastructure and have run with it earlier than anyone else."

AIT Group PLC in Oxfordshire, U.K., predicts that by 2002, 15 million adults in the United Kingdom will be able to carry out financial transactions via television.

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