At a focus group run by Terri Dial, a Wells Fargo Bank vice-chairman, to develop a new on-line service, small-business participants were talking about a test screen that warns users that they're overdrawn. One participant said, "I want to know my balance is too low before I write the check. What this thing really needs is a gas gauge." "It was such an obvious solution that we had to go with it," says Dial. Now small-business owners can monitor their accounts in real time and be forewarned of dwindling cash balances before they bounce a check, by using Wells Fargo's Business Gateway, a new on-line Windows-based banking service.

Wells Fargo is hoping the service will help it work profitably with small businesses, a group shunned by many financial institutions. Sharing information electronically can reduce the number of human-resources-draining calls and visits to branch offices. "There's usually no real reason to visit or call the bank," Dial notes, "if you already have a branch right on your desktop."