Check Imaging Gives Birth to a Family of Related Uses

Vendors are hawking a new breed of software that allows the use of check images to streamline other bank operations.

This option comes onto the market just as the first banks are beginning to reap rewards from check image-processing systems.

One of the new software packages, from SQN Peripherals, manipulates digitized checks to speed up signature verification. SQN is based in Rancocas, N.J.

The software works with images captured by the check processing system marketed by Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, Pa.

Cutting Down on Paper

Unisys is also testing a link between its system and software from Cincinnati Bell Information Systems that produces "image statements" -- laser-printed copies of canceled checks.

The link would enable banks to manipulate images captured during the check-handling process and, at the end of the month, print them on image statements for return to account holders.

By reducing paper handling, check imaging is expected by some to save the banking industry millions of dollars.

Units of Signet Banking Corp., Comerica Inc., and Huntington Bancshares Inc. now process nearly all their checks through Unisys imaging systems.

Linkage with |File Folder'

Barnett Banks Inc., another recent purchaser of the Unisys system, is adapting the software so it can be linked with a "file folder" image system from GTE Vantage Solutions to store and retrieve check images over longer periods of time.

Other banks are installing a competing system from International Business Machines Corp. and are believed to be at an earlier stage of development.

SQN's system, called Veritas, compares the signature image with the corresponding image of the signature card that a customer signed when opening an account.

The software that links the Unisys and SQN systems costs about $10,000, and the software that compares the two images costs about $11,000.

A Search for Other Uses

John Tonz, product marketing manager at Unisys in Detroit, said that partly because of competitive reasons, "We intend to use the [Unisys] platform for more than just image proofing."

"Bankers have been trying to figure out how to repackage the checking account," Mr. Tonz said. "This will give them the tools."

Banks normally sort checks into bins, for later review, if the checks lack a signature or are for an amount over a prescribed limit.

Even with an image-processing system, an operator would still have to handle these outsorted checks to compare them with signature cards.

Working manually, an operator can verify about 400 checks an hour, said Joseph Uhland, director marketing of SQN.

But once the process is automated, he said, an operator can verify 1,400 to 1,500 items an hour. SQN is in discussion with several banks, none of which has gone to contract.

Signet Bank and Huntington Bank are close to processing all checks through their imaging systems. Signet expects to go to full image processing at its Richmond, Va., site by the end of November.

Currently, the Signet unit is processing some 750,000 checks a day through an imaging system. By the end of month, it expects to process between 1.2 million and 1.5 million items a day.

Signet estimated that the imaging system will pay for itself in three and a half years, on an investment of $7.5 million.

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