BankAmerica Corp. is automating its indirect lending center in Las Vegas with a combination of imaging technology and workflow computer software.

Designed to create a paperless office, the effort is part of BankAmerica's long-term plan to enhance services to automobile lenders, said Anne Tonks, executive vice president and manager of the indirect lending unit.

"We wanted to improve product delivery to our dealer customers," she said.

The San Francisco-based bank consolidated its indirect lending unit in 1995, winnowing six centers to one. The centralized facility, located in Las Vegas, processes up to 3,000 applications daily from automobile dealers in 18 states, said Ms. Tonks.

The center uses imaging hardware from International Business Machines Corp. and document workflow software by Appro Systems Inc., which is based in Baton Rouge, La.

Applications faxed or mailed from dealers are scanned into the imaging system then sent through a series of programs within the Appro software, dubbed MP-100 Risk Processor.

Modules within the software can score an application based on preset credit criteria and issue an approval or denial based on the score. BankAmerica agents handle applications that fall outside automatic approval parameters.

"We wanted our trained credit personnel to concentrate on the gray areas where their knowledge adds value to the process," Ms. Tonks said.

The system, which is scheduled to be fully installed by the end of the first quarter, can reduce loan-approval time from two hours to 20 minutes by eliminating the handling and transporting of documents, said Ms. Tonks.

She said she hopes to pare turnaround time to five minutes with the installation of a character recognition technology later this year. Right now, BankAmerica agents manually key in some application data because the imaging system does not read handwriting accurately enough, said Ms. Tonks.

BankAmerica also is working to increase the number of dealers who file loan applications electronically.

"We are hoping that over the next year at least half of the loans will come in electronically," said Ms. Tonks. "That will make the automated decisioning faster."

Other banks and lending companies have invested in similar workflow software with the same goal in mind. This month, First Merchants Acceptance Corp., a dealer lending institution in Deerfield, Mich., purchased a system from Credit Management Solutions Inc. in Bethesda, Md.

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