The number of U.S. households using on-line banking is projected to more than triple in the next five years, from seven million at the end of 1998 to 24.2 million by the end of 2004, according to Dataquest Inc.

About 13.7 million households will be paying bills on-line by that time, the Gartner Group Inc. unit estimates.

The number of banks with formal fees for on-line banking services is declining. Dataquest estimates the average fee for on-line bill payment is $6.20 a month. Only about half of all on-line bill-paying households actually pay, because some banks offer the service free and others waive the fee for preferred customers.

The average fee for account viewing is about $5.10 a month. Only about 20% of banks charge for it, and only about 10% of account-viewing households actually pay. Fees from all account-viewing and bill-payment services are forecast to reach $1.3 billion by 2003.

"Anytime access" was cited by 86% of on-line banking customers as the prime incentive for establishing an account, Dataquest said.


NEW YORK -- Almost a third of Internet banking customers are dissatisfied with the on-line help they are getting, according to a survey published by CyberDialogue in conjunction with Booz-Allen & Hamilton.

Seventy-five percent of the respondents said assistance via electronic mail is "important" or "very important," but 31% said they are not satisfied with the help they are receiving by e-mail.

"Service can be the differentiating factor," said Mike Weiksner, a financial analyst for CyberDialogue. "On-line customers desire the same one-on-one attention they would receive if they physically walked into their neighborhood bank, all while sitting at their computer," he said.

The report found that the convenience of bill payment on-line is the most popular feature of banking sites; 85% rated it as "important" or "very important."

"Traditional financial institutions can leverage three advantages they have over other Internet brands: the ability to conduct on-line transactions, an existing customer database, and in-depth financial services experience," Mr. Weiksner said.

The study's recommendations are to invest in e-mail and telephone help and other technology to ensure that peak volumes could be handled and to improve Web site navigation with search tools and site maps.


LONDON -- About 1.4 million "smart" hand-held devices, valued at more than $1 billion, were shipped in Western Europe in 1998, according to International Data Corp.

In Japan nearly the same number of devices -- 1.42 million -- were shipped last year, an increase of 24.3% over 1997.

3Com Corp.'s Palm III palm-size personal computer dominated the market in Europe. Further growth is expected this year with the release of the Palm V and the deployment of color screen palm-size PCs.

In Japan, personal digital assistants, a category that includes the Palm III, did not fare as well in 1998. Shipments actually declined for the first time ever.

Japan's market for smart hand-held devices is expected to reach just under 10 million units in 2003, according to IDC. Japan could represent more than half of the market by then, IDC said.

Smart phones are coming on strong in Japan, but not in Europe.

The Japanese market for them grew 86.3%, to 323,200 units, last year; IDC expects it to double this year and reach 2.4 million units in 2001.

But Smart phone vendors were slow to enter the market in Europe. Major vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia are expected to significantly boost growth as they roll out products toward the end of this year and in 2000.

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