updated 3/19/2008 5:24:42 PM ET 2008-03-19T21:24:42

Recognizing not all banking customers want a safe deposit box, Wells Fargo & Co. plans to sell online vaults as a secure and convenient alternative for storing vital records.

When the service rolls out this summer, Wells Fargo believes it will be the first major U.S. bank to offer an Internet alternative to the safe deposit boxes that have been an industry staple for decades.

Because it can't store jewelry, cash and many other precious assets, Wells Fargo's online version isn't likely to replace the traditional safe deposit box. It's more likely to replace shoe boxes and home filing cabinets, said Jim Smith, who oversees the bank's Internet products.

Called "vSafe," the service is perfect for storing digital versions of birth certificates, wills, driver's licenses, passports, family photos and other important documents, Smith said.

Customers will be able to retrieve the documents from any computing device with an Internet connection — a major advantage for frequent travelers.

Always on the lookout for new sources of service fees, Wells Fargo will charge nearly $180 per year for its biggest online safe. The planned monthly fees will be: $4.95 for 1 gigabyte of storage: $9.95 for three gigabytes; and $14.95 for six gigabytes.

Those costs could discourage many customers from using Wells Fargo's online vault, given that several major technology companies, including household names like Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., already offer some Internet storage space for free.

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Wells Fargo hopes its 156-year history of helping protect customer assets will give it a marketing advantage among people who have been reluctant to entrust Web sites to store important information online.

All documents put in vSafe will be encrypted, using the same measures that the bank deploys to protect other Internet accounts.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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