A recent study suggests that banks should get ready to welcome increasing numbers of women to their Web sites.

The study by NetSmart America, a New York marketing company, found that women are 58% of "newbies" -- people who have less than one year of experience on-line.

As they become more accustomed to using the Internet, their use of on-line banking is expected to surge. By 2002, 60% of all people on-line will be women, NetSmart America predicted.

"This is a wake-up call for bankers," said Bernadette Tracy, president of NetSmart America, which interviewed 1,000 people who spend an hour or more per week on-line, excluding e-mail. "Women are going to be the leading force in on-line banking."

The study also found that more women are making on-line purchases. This year 55% of men and 46% of women made on-line purchases. Last year the gender gap was more a pronounced 51% to 37%.

People who have made electronic purchases are primed for Internet banking because they appreciate the convenience of on-line services and have been introduced to security and navigation issues, said Leon Majors, research director for on-line financial services at PSI Global, a Tampa-based research firm.

The survey results point to a large upside to tailoring on-line services and marketing campaigns to women.

Some banks have already heard the message.

First Bethany (Okla.) Bank and Trust is aiming services specifically at women business owners. Its Web site features information on the local women's business center, and the bank helps conduct a class at a local women's center that teaches businesswomen how to get access to capital.

"Women are a market we want to reach because they are the fastest-growing population of business owners," said Cheri Williams, assistant vice president for marketing at the bank.

Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp. has a Web page offering advice tailored to women on personal finance, retirement planning, and finding a financial adviser. And Union Bank of California has links to women.com, a Web site dedicated to women's issues.

Because tailoring on-line services to women is a relatively new phenomenon, statistics on its effectiveness are few. But Ms. Tracy said these efforts are headed in the right direction.

"Banks have to prepare strategies for 2002 when women will outnumber men" on-line, she said. "Though many women are not banking on-line now, they will be banking on-line in droves later, while the number of men on-line will plateau."

NetSmart America's research shows that women tend to use the Internet as a tool for simplifying their lives. Men lean toward surfing the Web and trying out new things, but women usually want to take care of business and log off.

"Banks haven't realized that women are their prime prospects," Ms. Tracy said.

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