The American Bankers Association is requesting that the U.S. Postal Rate Commission lower the number of first-class letters a mailer must bar- code in order to qualify for postage discounts.

The commission is expected to consider next month rate reform that would let mailers now paying 32 cents for a first-class letter to reduce postage to 27 cents if the mail is sorted and bar-coded in bundles of 500.

Irving D. Warden, general counsel for the ABA, said this would exclude banks that cannot amass the volume necessary to get the discount.

The association advocates reducing the first-class minimum density to 200 pieces - the current proposed minimum number for third-class mailings.

"We would like to make 200 pieces the minimum for first-class mailings, too," said Mr. Warden.

"This will also help out the smaller institutions that cannot quite reach the density for the discount."

The ABA takes an active role in postal-rate cases because the banking industry generates more than six billion letters each year. This total is more than any other industry in the United States, the ABA said.

One study, conducted by Pitney Bowes Mailing Systems, Stamford, Conn., showed that U.S. banks could be more educated about mailing discounts.

Of the 200 banks surveyed, 73% were not aware of pending reforms to postal rates.

The ABA recognizes the need for education. "The banks' lack of knowledge in the survey does not mean a lack of interest, but the problem is that the reform can be confusing," Mr. Warden said.

The study also said that 77% of banks wanted to learn more about the classification reform.

Surveyed banks plan to invest in 1996 an average $7,900 on mailing equipment to handle address verification and correction, postal coding, bar-coding and presorting.

Experts agreed that the larger, more established banks are in a better position to save money on postage.

"The bottom line is that the bigger companies should be ahead of the game," said Daniel J. O'Rourke, vice president of National Westminster Bancorp office services department and former chairman of the ABA's postal service committee.

"For small companies, it depends on their pre-sorting houses, or if they are a part of a larger cooperative," he said.

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