First Union National Bank of Florida is testing an unusual chip card system from NRS Financial Systems that identifies customers as they walk into a branch.
The system helps tellers greet unfamiliar faces by name and spares customers the effort of supplying identification to complete such transactions as cashing a check.
A computer chip in the card sends a signal to an antenna on the branch door. The information goes to a computer that assigns numbers representing the order in which customers arrived. The customers' photos, signatures, Social Security number, and driver's license data appear on tellers' screens.
A presently unused field in the computer file would accept personal information about a customer. For instance, if a customer said a grandchild was visiting, the teller might note this in the file - for computer help remembering it the next time the customer came into the branch.
NRS, based in Irvine, Calif., is a provider of PC-based point of sale terminals. It is supporting the technology in a temporarily exclusive agreement with First Union.
So far, only 1,000 customers in three of the bank's St. Augustine branches are participating in the pilot test, which began in January. The bank asks people who come into those branches if they would carry a bank identification card in their wallets.
William T. Morrison, senior vice president of $33.2 billion-asset First Union National Bank, acknowledged that the card offers fraud-prevention benefits but said his bank sees it "primarily as a customer service tool."
Mr. Morrison would like to have the chip embedded in the bank's ATM cards or debit cards, because it is expensive to issue the identification cards separately.
However, Robert Belair, a Washington-based attorney who is also an editor of the newsletter Privacy & American Business, questioned whether "there is a market beyond the 20% of people who are not sensitive to privacy issues.
"Technological applications make people nervous," he said. "People may feel uncomfortable about not initiating the actual exchange of information."