Fiserv Deals Fill Last Holes In National Image Exchange

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A pair of Fiserv Inc. image-exchange agreements announced at the Bank Administration Institute's TransPay Conference-one with Viewpointe Archive Services LLC, the other with Small Value Payments Co.-are filling in some of the last remaining blanks in the effort to develop a national check image exchange infrastructure.

"This is putting all the pieces together," said Viewpointe chief executive officer John Lettko. With Viewpointe representing nine of the largest banks in the country, SVPCo accounting for 20 more major banks, and Fiserv the check processor for about 1,600 mostly small and midsize banks, these deals constitute a driving force in image exchange.

More Agreements Sought

Lettko said he wants to pursue more such agreements. But even as the players involved prepare to begin electronic check clearing, some are looking further down the road at alternative methods of posting checks electronically that do not require moving the image.

"We have to get a critical mass in order to drive check exchange," said Hank Farrar, the president and chief operating officer of New York-based SVPCo. "This is really a big deal in terms of creating a national payments system. Image is really at the cornerstone of what we're trying to do."

SVPCo is putting together a national network for the exchange of check images.

While other such networks exist, notably including Endpoint Exchange and the Federal Reserve, Farrar said they generally have lower capacity than the one he is building. "We are investing heavily to create an industrial-strength network that can handle not hundreds of thousands of image files, but billions."

That network is expected to be in the trial phase by the end of the year and go live in the first quarter of 2004. That puts it on roughly the same schedule as the Check Clearing Act for the 21st Century, often called Check21, which is expected to be approved by Congress this year and to give a big boost to the idea of image exchange by granting digital check images the same legal weight as paper checks.

Common Archive

SVPCo already has an agreement to be the conduit network between Viewpointe and any other banks that need to exchange images with the nine Viewpointe members. The common Viewpointe archive lets its members share images for clearing, and some of the participants have piloted electronic clearing, saying they needed a way to connect with the rest of nation's banks.

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