Deluxe Corp. has joined with Fair, Isaac & Co. and Acxiom Corp. to create what they call the industry's first debit bureau.
With Deluxe as its focal point, the bureau will offer information to support financial institutions' decisions about new-account openings, automated teller machine withdrawal limits, and debit card issuance.
"The mounting problems of fraud related to checks and checking accounts is of enormous and growing concern to both financial institutions and retailers," said J.A. "Gus" Blanchard, chairman and chief executive officer of St. Paul-based Deluxe. "If we can deliver meaningful relief from these problems, I believe there's substantial value that clients will pay for."
Jerry Hergenroeder, senior consultant at Speer & Associates in Atlanta, said he has long supported the idea of a debit bureau and Deluxe's announcement is "great news for the industry."
Deluxe is the largest printer of checks. The long-anticipated decline in check volumes has led the company to diversify. The debit bureau service would draw on several other Deluxe offerings, including the Shared Check Authorization Network, which helps retailers identify bad checks.
Acxiom, based in Conway, Ark., has built a data warehouse to be used by debit bureau clients. Fair Isaac, the San Rafael, Calif.-based credit scoring technology company, contributed software that interprets raw data.
Deluxe executives said check fraud is a significant problem for bankers and retailers. An American Bankers Association survey estimated the banking industry's annual check fraud losses at about $1 billion, but Deluxe officials said actual costs are as much as 10 times greater.
Mr. Hergenroeder pointed out that debit card use is at an all-time high, increasing the fraud hazard at ATMs and points of sale.
Deluxe's decision to create a debit bureau arose in part from interviews with 15 senior bankers during more than a year.
Bankers in the group were not immediately available to comment. Greg Bjorndahl, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Deluxe, said the bankers asked for tools to help deal with the rising tide of fraud related to demand deposit accounts.
One common decision the debit bureau could influence is whether to pay out funds on a check backed by insufficient funds. At most banks today, Mr. Bjorndahl said, this is clear-cut-if funds are in the account, they are paid; if not, the check bounces.
The debit bureau could help a bank "recognize a valuable customer relationship and decide to pay a check when there is little risk of not getting the money back in the end," Mr. Bjorndahl said.
"The service empowers banks to treat people based on how they handle their accounts and other payment devices," he said. "It lets consumers be recognized for what they are, rather than being lumped together with a group of other people."
He stressed that the customer data compiled for the debit bureau would not be used for purposes beyond the stated ones. "Chase, for example, would not be able to come to us and say, 'Give us a list of Citibank customers so we can go solicit them,'" he said.
The debit bureau data base was completed in late December, and Deluxe expects to begin making the services available within a few months.