In a move to hold on to its corporate cash management customers, National City Bancorp in Minneapolis said it is testing a Windows-based service for financial electronic data interchange.

The service integrates new data interchange software from Certisoft Solutions Inc. and the global telecommunications network of American Telephone and Telegraph Co.

Officials said the service offers banks and corporations an affordable way to send and receive electronic data interchange payments.

"We see this as an emerging market for us," said Steven Ward, a director of product development with $700 million-asset National City.

Financial electronic data interchange is the exchange of payments and related information in computer formats that automate corporate payables and receivables systems.

Although the process has long been identified as a potentially lucrative fee-based service, and despite the rising demand among corporations, the vast majority of banks with less $2 billion in assets do not offer it.

And of those that do, few banks claim the services are profitable.

"We are not looking at this as a big money-maker," Mr. Ward said.

Although National City will "realize some fee income," the reasons for developing the service were to stem the loss of corporate customers and "develop some new relationships," he said.

John Insko, a vice president with the Englewood, Colo.-based Certisoft, said the service will also be offered to corporations, even if their banks are not equipped to handle financial electronic data interchange.

Companies will be able to send automated clearing house files with accompanying information directly to banks through AT&T's network, he said. Banks can then pass the payments along to receiving banks.

"We have mail-enabled our software," Mr. Insko said. "AT&T provides Certisoft with an experienced and secure value-added network."

The alliance with AT&T represents Certisoft's second major effort with a telecommunications company. In October, MCI Communications Corp., Washington, D.C., chose Certisoft to help it develop a range of electronic data interchange services.

MCI has a deal with the National Automated Clearing House to develop a low-cost, "receive-only" service, which is in a test phase with Citizens Bancorp, Laurel, Md.

But Certisoft's and AT&T's new service is "more of a front-end" application, Mr. Insko said, and is "not in direct competition with the Nacha product."

"It completes the whole payment cycle," he said. Electronic payment files that are originated using the AT&T service can be received and translated by MCI's service.

"I think the bigger opportunity is with the originating side," said Vic Henschal, a director with AT&T.

"It's good for the clients" because it is a turnkey operation that does not require a staff of technical experts, Mr. Henschal said.

Certisoft will act as an agent for AT&T. The two companies are planning a joint promotional campaign to market the service to community and regional banks and corporations.

Officials expect the service to be available early in 1996. AT&T will charge on a transactional basis, starting at 50 cents. The software component will range from $750 to $3,000.

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