Security First Technologies Corp., an Atlanta software and data processing services company regarded as a bellwether of Internet banking activity, had an exceptionally strong third quarter.

The performance -- its best since going public in May 1996 -- provided momentum as the company heads into a shareholder vote Wednesday on its deals to buy Edify Corp., FICS Group, and VerticalOne Corp.

Security First, which is in the process of changing its name to S1, said revenues were up 279% from a year earlier, to $24.8 million, beating Wall Street's expectations by 40%. Net losses from continuing operations narrowed to $828,000, from $4.9 million. Its stock gained 19% last week, closing Friday at $47.75.

Most analysts say they expect the on-line banking pioneer to turn a profit in the first half. It is on track to produce $240 million to $280 million of revenue next year, versus expected 1999 revenues of $69 million, according to Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

Robert Martin, an analyst at Friedman Billings, rates Security First a "buy" and has a 12-month target of $75 a share.

Jeff Baker, an equity research analyst at SunTrust Equitable Securities, said Security First's strong showing indicates its growth is a trend, not a one-time event. "I think 2000 clearly is a pivotal year for financial services companies," he said.

Mr. Baker said the market is beginning to realize that with Washington's repeal of Depression-era laws that separated the banking, brokerage, and insurance industries, bank technology providers -- especially those that provide leading-edge technology -- are poised to benefit.

Security First licenses software directly to banks, sells outsourcing services, and distributes software through third-party data processors such as Fiserv Inc. and M&I Data Services. Customers include more than 100 of the largest banks and insurance firms in the nation.

Retail consumers using Security First's software totaled 1.2 million as of Sept. 30, up 201% from a year earlier. The boost was influenced by several bank customers that experienced strong growth in the number of Internet customers, said Robert Stockwell, chief financial officer at Security First.

The company is also adding several new customers to its client list, including two banks, two brokerage firms, one Internet-based brokerage, an insurance company, and a global financial services company.

Mr. Martin said 1999 is beginning to live up to expectations as "the year of Internet banking." He noted brisk sales among such other vendors as Q-Up Systems Inc., Digital Insight, and nFront Inc.

What's more,, the on-line offering of Bank One Corp. has "primed the marketing well" for an expected surge of Internet efforts in 2000.

Citigroup Inc., a Security First customer and equity investor, has delayed its ambitious marketing of its Citi f/i on-line service until early 2000, Mr. Martin said, because of the belief that consumers will not change their banking accounts until after Y2K concerns ease.

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