Chase Manhattan Corp. and Ameritech Corp. have agreed to jointly offer an electronic bill payment service.

The new service, based on Chase's customer electronic payment system, could add 100 million transactions to the bank's industry-leading volume in automated clearing house origination, bank officials said.

Chase initiated 228 million such transactions last year and, as a result of the merger with Chemical Banking Corp., is likely to originate 320 million this year. The merged bank's volume is about 13% of the national market.

Chase in 1991 developed and customized its customer electronic payment system for Chicago-based Ameritech. It is used by about 500,000 of Ameritech's 13 million customers.

The two companies are hopeful that they can turn their experience with the software into more business for the bank.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the two companies said they have identified cable companies, telecommunication firms, and utilities as potential users of the system.

John Rao, senior vice president at Chase, said the software can easily integrate into a corporation's "existing in-house billing and information systems."

The new service comes on the heels of efforts to promote clearing house payments led by the Federal Reserve banks and the National Automated Clearing House Association. Their aim is to reduce the growth in the use of paper checks by converting payments to electronics.

About 900 million of the 20 billion bill payments made annually in the United States are electronic. The efforts of Chase and other large originators could significantly boost clearing house use in the coming years, experts said.

The benefits of electronic bill payment are numerous. Consumers are freed from having to write checks, and banks and businesses are freed from having to process them.

In addition, electronic payments improve billers' ability to forecast cash flows, experts said.

Chase is not the only bank promoting direct payments.

MFC First National Bank of Houghton (Mich.), a $70 million asset bank owned by Michigan Financial Corp., recently began its own drive to acquaint customers with the automated clearing house.

Susanne Boxer, the bank's president, is leading a promotional effort with Upper Peninsula Power Co. to promote direct payment to the utility's 50,000 customers.

"It's a major piggyback on the national publicity," she said.

The combined effort of large and small banks should begin to curb check growth in 1997 or 1998, experts said.

As part of the effort to reduce checks, Chase is developing a credit card payment option, as well as an interface for users of its electronic payment system. The interface will let customers link to billers via third- party bill payment services, such as those offered by Intuit Inc. and Checkfree Corp.

Steven Bernstein, vice president at Chase, said the electronic interface would eliminate "check and list" problems - many "electronic" payments are actually settled via a lump-sum paper check covering hundreds of individual payments. This creates processing burdens for billers when the "check" amounts do not agree with the customer "lists."

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