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7-Eleven weighing in-store financial services

The brick-and-mortar convenience store chain is in the middle of testing a computer kiosk project that could allow customers to pay bills or buy concert tickets while in the store.

In addition to picking up a magazine, corn chips or a Slurpee, 7-Eleven customers might soon be able to pay their bills, deposit paychecks or buy concert tickets while inside the convenience store.

The brick-and-mortar chain is in the middle of testing its V.com project, which would place computer kiosks in stores that will initially provide basic ATM and money transferring services, a company spokeswoman said. Should the kiosks prove successful, Dallas-based 7-Eleven plans to add services such as check cashing, bill payment, online banking and ticket sales.

The company signed a deal with Western Union that would allow customers to use the money-transferring service via the kiosks. The partnership is one between two stalwart offline companies that are trying to snag a share of the thriving online financial services sector.

The online banking industry, for instance, was valued at $1.5 trillion last year and is expected to be worth $2.1 trillion this year, according to Internet research company Jupiter Media Metrix. Jupiter predicts the sector will grow to $5.4 trillion by 2005.

That kind of payoff has attracted scores of new entries into the sector. Some of the leading upstarts include PayPal, which offers person-to-person electronic payments; Paytrust, an online bill payment company; and Yodlee, which combines information from different accounts for its customers.

However, spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said 7-Eleven believes that it has some advantages over some of the other players. With more than 5,300 U.S. locations, Chabris said 7-Eleven is conveniently located and already has a sizable consumer base that trusts it with basic financial chores such as money orders and ATM cash withdrawals.

Although Chabris said 7-Eleven figured that customers without bank accounts would be the ones primarily using V.com, the company was surprised to find out that even bank account holders used the service because of its convenience.

Chabris declined to reveal the cost of launching V.com or to specify when it would be completed. She did say that each kiosk is worth more than the $15,000 price tag of most ATM machines.

Englewood, Colo.-based Western Union has vigorously bulked up its Web offerings to coincide with the rise of Web-based money-transferring companies starting to make noise. Privately held PayPal recently said it has surpassed the 6 million customer mark in the year since the company's launch.

To compete, Western Union, which is owned by First Data, launched its own online person-to-person payment system, MoneyZap, last summer. The 150-year-old company also branched out into bill payment and offering loans online when it unveiled Westernunion.com

"Our business is thriving," Western Union spokeswoman Wendy Carver-Herbert said. "People know our name and know that they can trust us as we build our Net presence."