Automatic Data Processing Inc., the No. 1 processor of payrolls in the United States, has obtained a banking charter.

The move gives ADP a direct channel into the payment System, providing yet another example of how nonbanks are finding ways around banks and into what have historically been bank-dominated businesses.

Roseland, N.J.-based ADP can use its FDIC-insured, state-chartered thrift, ADP Savings Association of Allentown, Pa., to originate automated clearing house transactions --just like any other depository institution.

ADP thus does not have to be dependent on other banks to do its payroll deposit processing, said Michael Wishnow, manager of consumer services and information for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking.

This may not sit well with those other banks.

ADP Financial Services, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based unit of ADP, is one of the largest providers of cash management outsourcing services to banks. Industry sources said the banks will likely view ADP's ownership of a banking charter as an infringement on their own corporate relationships.

The move is also seen as following the "nonbank bank" precedents, such as J.C. Penney Co., Sears, Roebuck and Co., and American Express Co.

"Their primary purpose for chartering the institution was to have access to the Federal Reserve System so they can move money around," Mr. Wishnow said of ADP.

The company has declined to comment on its plans.

As part of its payroll processing service, ADP can initiate direct deposit transactions on behalf of the employer's bank through the automated clearing house..That would obviate the need to pay fees to sponsoring banks, which observers believe explains ADP's motivation for opening a bank.

"My guess is that the cost of these fees got so high, it was worth their while to charter their own bank and run all the fees through there," Mr. Wishnow said. "Basically, they are paying themselves the fee."

Sources who asked to remain anonymous said ADP spent $14 million on wire transfer fees alone in 1993.

Although ADP opted for a savings association charter, "they really don't have any walk-up traffic," said Len Christopher, district sales manager with Fiserv Inc. "They have a walk-up window, but they don't advertise as a bank."

ADP turned to Milwaukee-based Fiserv to handle its data processing. ADP was in the bank out-sourcing business until 1989, when it sold the division that became Bisys Group of Little Falls, N.J. Many former ADP people are still at Bisys, but Fiserv got the contract for ADP Savings Association.

Mr. Christopher said he had understood that ADP was trying for years to start a bank but "kept getting shot down."

"I think the big correspondent banks fought it because it would take a lot of revenue away," said Mr. Christopher.

Stephen P. White, chief executive officer of Syntonix Corp., a consulting firm in Atlanta, speculated that ADP will likely realize substantial benefits in other ways. For example, it might get the direct-deposit funds into its bank quicker than if it were relying on other institutions.

"If I were ADP and I could get all of that money deposited, even if for one night, and have access to the ACH and the payments system instead of having to do that on behalf of the bank where the employer has his relationship, then that can have tremendous float advantages," Mr. White said.

Mr. White helped prepare a report, recently published by the Bankers Roundtable and Furash & Co. of Washington, that warns of nonbank encroachments into banks' payment systems and services.

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