Imagine a bank sending a reminder via their clients' mobile phones when their current account balance was near zero, and that the client would be able to immediately make a transfer from one account to another. Or imagine logging on to a bank's site and getting access to a customised 'financial portal', including transaction histories, stock and investment information and - if in business - letters of credit and other trade finance products. That is the wave of the future and it could be coming to Hong Kong and the mainland by early next year, according to industry experts. Companies marketing the computer systems behind these services say local financial houses are eager to add Internet-enabled services that customers can access at home or through phones and other devices. That is in large part because the Web can drastically reduce the cost of getting and keeping customers, with Web transactions costing about 10 per cent of their physical branch counterparts. 'All banks are looking for cost-cutting, so that is very attractive to them,' said Edmund Ma, group managing director for Hong Kong-based Vanda Systems and Telecommunications. Vanda's banking clients were 'looking for some new features to add on early next year, but not this year', he said, as much of this year's computer spending was devoted to ensuring Y2K compliance. He estimates that Vanda, a systems integrator that sets up computer networks for its clients, provides services to about half of Hong Kong's banks and 95 per cent of those on the mainland. A handful of banks now offer Internet-related services to their customers, including Chekiang First Bank, Bank of China and Citibank Hong Kong. While many of the services on offer are very basic, such as balance inquiry or bill-paying, the trend is towards adding more sophisticated options such as stock transactions, news and trade finance. These services will be offered in one place, giving 'reasons for customers to come back and back again to the same portal', said Michel Ackermans, chairman and chief executive of Belgium-based FICS Group, a financial software maker whose products Vanda recently agreed to market in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland. Kevin Taylor, director of computer consultancy James Martin & Co, said many of his company's clients in Hong Kong were large banks looking at ways to build relationships with customers from the time customers graduated from university and started to pay off student loans. The Internet provided a perfect means of doing this. In places like the mainland and India, where banks have invested in computer systems only recently, most infrastructure needed to provide Internet services already exists, said Steve Chu, Asia-Pacific managing director for FICS. 'They only need to add an interface between the new portal and the core banking system,' he said. Not only can banks reduce costs and cross-sell their own products through the Internet, there is also the opportunity to take a cut of any sales made by their electronic commerce partners. The services are expected to be available through desktop computers as well as through mobile devices like wireless phones and personal digital assistants. FICS said its initial trials with Finland-based Nokia indicated that the next generation of Web-enabled phones - which many other manufacturers are also working on - is able to support a number of banking functions. These include balance inquiry, payments, stock quotes, stock purchases and sales and e-mail alerts. The mainland is possibly one of the most appealing markets for Internet banking service providers. Mobile phone subscriptions nearly doubled last year to about 25 million, while the number of Internet users, according to one government statistic, doubled to four million in the first half of this year.