NEW YORK (AP) _ Intuit Inc., maker of personal finance software, announced an agreement Monday to provide electronic banking access through America Online.

The arrangement means America Online's subscribers can access the 21 banks to which Intuit provides connections starting next year.

Though it is not exclusive, the arrangement gives both companies a chance to market their products to the customers of the other. Intuit has sold about 8 million copies of its Quicken program and America Online has about 4 million subscribers.

Quicken users will still be able to make on-line connections to banks without America Online. Such customers, though only a small percentage of Intuit's base, can check account balances, download statements, transfer funds and sometimes pay bills. It is not possible to obtain money on-line.

Steve Case, chief executive officer of America Online, said the company would not charge extra for providing Quicken connections. Charges set by individual banks would apply, however.

Scott Cook, chief executive officer of Intuit, said the company aims to work with more banks next year. But it will be years before all, or even a majority, of the nation's 10,000 banks have relationships with a popular finance program like Quicken.

Both executives said the companies had made a priority of assuring that transactions would be secure.

While Intuit has relationships with other on-line companies, the deal gives America Online a competitive boost after it recently lost Time magazine and has faced ongoing criticism for the slow speed of its service.

``I'd say this is as important a strategic relationship as we've announced in a long time,'' Case said.