Bank of Montreal will install an imaging system developed by Unisys Corp. in its retail lockbox operation.

Executives at the $109 billion-asset Toronto bank say the new software will speed remittance processing and improve service for the 40 customers who use the unit.

Bank of Montreal, which controls more than half of the Canadian market for retail lockbox services, processes some 300,000 items daily, bank executives said.

Previously, the bank had used a Unisys system that did not offer imaging capabilities. "Once we got to the scale where we were big enough to make imaging cost effective, we began looking for a replacement to the system," said Alan Farmer, senior business manager of remittance processing at Bank of Montreal. "We are looking forward to the increased efficiencies the system will bring."

Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The software, dubbed Visual Remittance System, runs on Windows NT. It captures invoices and checks deposited into the lockboxes and scans the documents to create an image that is used for further processing.

Bank executives are still considering whether to offer clients their imaged items on CD-ROM. "It's something that we are looking at, but many of our customers aren't equipped to use CD-ROM yet," Mr. Farmer said.

The program has been adapted for use by Canadian banks, which follow a stricter time line for processing payments than their U.S. counterparts. One module added by Unisys specifically for Canada, for example, accepts U.S. dollar-denominated payments.

"We are hoping that this will position us well for the whole Canadian market," said Louisa Holt, director of payment systems in eastern Canada for Unisys.

Unisys is in discussions with Toronto Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada about installing the same system in their retail lockbox units, Ms. Holt confirmed. In July, the two banks established a jointly owned items-processing company with Bank of Montreal.

For now, however, the contract addresses only Bank of Montreal's retail lockbox business, Ms. Holt said.

The bank's Toronto processing facility is slated for conversion to the software by the end of November, followed by a Montreal site in January. Three other locations - in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Calgary - are expected to be converted to the Unisys system by the end of next year, said Mr. Farmer.

The system may also be installed at the bank's U.S. subsidiary, Harris Bancorp in Chicago.

Harris Bank announced this summer that it would install imaging software developed by IA Corp. for use in its wholesale lockbox unit. Executives at the bank are still considering whether to use the Unisys software for their retail unit.

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