Sony Corp. launched the nation’s second Internet-based bank Monday, aiming to attract customers to the branch-free bank with higher deposit interest rates and new financial services based on the firm’s advanced information technology.

Hirokazu Ishikawa (left), vice president of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.; Sony Bank President Shigeru Ishii; Sony Bank Chairman Tamotsu Iba; and Bart Broadman, chairman of J.P. Morgan Japan, give a show of solidarity.

Sony Bank, owned 80 percent by Sony, hopes to have 400,000 Web accounts and 500 billion yen in deposits in three years by offering an annual interest rate of 0.40 percent to 0.55 percent on one-year time deposits, about 10 times higher than rates paid on ordinary accounts.

“We aim to provide private banking services for businessmen,” Sony Bank President Shigeru Ishii said at a ceremony to mark the start of the online banking service.

Sony Bank is the second Internet-based bank in Japan, following Japan Net Bank, which was set up in October.

It is also the second time a nonfinancial business has launched online banking services after IYBank, established by supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co.

On its first day of business, Sony Bank suffered some technical problems, with prospective customers experiencing difficulty in accessing its Web site for some time starting around 11:30 a.m., a company spokesman said.

“There was some trouble with the Web access system. We are now looking into it, but have yet to determine the cause,” the spokesman said.

Sony Bank enables PC users to open accounts online by visiting www.sonybank.net/ and entering personal information.

Prospective account holders then print an image of the Web page on which they have entered their details, sign it, and then forward the page to the bank.

Account holders are then issued cash cards by which they can deposit, withdraw and remit money at any of the 7,600 automated teller machines at branches of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and am/pm Japan convenience stores.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking owns 16 percent of Sony Bank, with the rest put up by J.P. Morgan of the United States.

In another move in the banking industry, Tokyo Sowa Bank, the third domestic bank to come under control by foreign investors, was reborn Monday as Tokyo Star Bank with the aim of going public in five years.

The new bank, which was taken over by U.S. private equity fund Lone Star early this year, aims to focus on the potentially lucrative but crowded retail market in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In January, Lone Star became the third foreign firm in a year to expand into the Japanese banking sector when it took over the regional bank, which was declared bankrupt in June 1999 under a mountain of bad loans.

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