Not very long ago First National Bank of Chicago employees had to hunch over typewriters to fill out certain foreign-currency checks.

Now that the bank has upgraded its global corporate treasury technology, it has replaced the old machines with a printer that handles multiple check formats.

In February the subsidiary of $115 billion-asset First Chicago NBD Corp. started using PayBase payment software from Bottomline Technologies Inc. of Portsmouth, N.H. The system prints foreign-currency drafts that incorporate the local banking rules of individual countries.

"Whether it's the euro, the peso, or the escudo, our advanced multicurrency disbursement tools will facilitate First Chicago NBD's complex international payment transactions," said Phil Grannan, marketing vice president of Bottomline Technologies.

Previously the bank could print checks in only one format and needed the typewriters to handle certain foreign-currency checks that come in different sizes. For instance, checks in the German mark and Portuguese escudo are smaller than those in the French franc. The manual operation cost time and customers, said Edward Tumillo, a global payment system vice president at First Chicago.

Mr. Tumillo did not reveal how much First Chicago invested in the software, but said he expects payback within one year. "We have been able to reduce clearing time by between a few days and two weeks," Mr. Tumillo said, adding that other First Chicago subsidiaries are considering the Bottomline Technologies software.

First Chicago processes several hundred foreign-currency checks a month- few, it says, compared with some other banks' volume. The new technology will let it handle larger, higher-volume customers, Mr. Tumillo said.

"We'll see a significant ramp-up by the end of the year and going into next year," he said.

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