Three of California's top five banks are among financial institutions testing ''banking at home'' in the nation's most populous state.
Bank of America, San Francisco; Security Pacific National Bank, Los Angeles; and First Interstate Bank of California, Los Angeles, are dipping their financial toes into home video waters. They want to test acceptance and reaction to home banking. They are also trying to get a feel for future charges for the service.
The at-home systems use personal computers or small key pads to access banks' computers for various financial services. Data are displayed on TV sets or video monitors. In some cases, a few games and other information -- from restaurant listings to stock market data -- are being thrown in as part of the package.
Bank of America, by some measures the nation's largest commercial bank, in mid-March teams up with the Times Mirror Company, Los Angeles. The test area will include about 350 homes in the Palos Verdes area, south of Los Angeles, and Mission Viejo in Orange County. Homes will be linked to computers through telephone lines or two-way cable. The bank will sift through users' reactions, seeking ''experience and data on consumer acceptance of video home banking,'' relates Stephen O. Yotter. Mr. Yotter is head of retail electronic banking at the Bank of America.
The Times Mirror, meanwhile, hopes to enlarge its home banking activity. TM and Infomart, a Toronto-based news and cable company, have formed a joint venture to market videotex systems in the United States. In addition to linking homes to computers via telephone lines and cable, the two-way information system will use microwave or optical fiber.
Security Pacific is trying out its home banking with Cox Cable Communications Inc. About 300 Cox cable subscribers in San Diego are using key pads and home TV sets for 24-hour access to confirm account balances, transfer funds, review transactions, and request product information and other details such as locations of automated teller machines and bank offices. If that test is successful, it will be extended in the San Diego area and to other Cox locations.
Sally McGillicuddy, assistant vice-president, Security Pacific, says that in addition to determining whether customers are ready to take the home banking plunge and are willing to pay for the service, ''we will also be looking at how people with accounts at other financial institutions use the services provided.'' That's because other banks plus savings and loan associations are participating in the San Diego test.
Also on the San Diego cable tryout are the San Diego-based Home Federal Savings & Loan Association; San Diego Federal Savings & Loan Association; San Francisco-based California First Bank; and First Interstate Bank of California. The New York-based Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, seeing the potential in California, is offering only information in the San Diego experiment.
The First Interstate Bank of California, meanwhile, has its own bank-at-home test under way in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. Fifty of its employees and 200 customers are on its circuit. They use telephone lines, TV sets, and small terminals to access the bank's computer for account balance inquiries, funds transfers, bill paying, and information such as current certificate of deposit rates. Users in the test are getting a bonus -- $10 worth of access (at no charge) a month to The Source, a large data base with a varied menu of consumer information.
Bankers are using the tests to determine pricing for the home-banking services. Most feel customers will be willing to budget $15 to $20 a month for a lengthy menu of banking and nonbanking services on top of an investment in home terminals.
Also sensing the potential in home banking is Tymshare Inc., Cupertino, Calif. Through its subsidiary, Microband Corporation of America, it is seeking Federal Communications Commission approval for so-called ''wireless cable'' systems in 50 top urban markets. The service would use cost-effective microwave systems, rather than telephone lines or coaxial cables, to transmit pay TV material along with other features that could include banking-at-home services.