Chemical Banking Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., and a number of other major banks have recently subscribed to an electronic news service that culls articles from more than 350 news sources and delivers them to executives by fax or modem.

The service, offered by Individual Inc., Cambridge, Mass., allows users to specify the subjects in which they are most interested and to get stories only on those topics, saving officials time and money.

The service, called First, has 25,000 users worldwide.

Mitch Bayley, a vice president at Chase, said he uses the service for stories related to health care. He said he gets eight to 10 such stories daily.

Chase has used the service about nine months, Mr. Bayley said. "Basically, it scans a fairly wide range of news articles that we use for general information."

First transmits the news stories through the exclusive use of Smart software - a system for manipulation and retrieval of text - developed by Cornell University professor Gerard Salton.

Some 36 banks and investment banks subscribe. Richard Vancil, vice president of marketing at Individual, said he expects that number to grow as First adds financial news sources.

Subscribers get news stories drawn from national newspapers, magazines, and wire services. They are distributed in a newsletter format by fax or electronic mail.

"I think it's a good service that can get better," said Richard Goldberg, executive vice president at Mercantile Bancorp., St. Louis, who has subscribed for six months. "They can expand the number of publications.

"Right now, there are not enough sources in the banking area."

Officials at Individual acknowledged they are looking to add news sources.

At Mercantile, a $12 billion-asset bank company, Mr. Goldberg said he and two other officials use First to track stories of interest. "We get information on all banks in the Midwest," he said, adding that there are plans to expand the service to other bank officials.

Mr. Vancil said the technology used is superior to a traditional key-word search, which often calls up too many or too few stories. Mr. Salton's design gives different weights to words based on how frequently they appear.

"It's an intelligent alternative to key-word searches," Mr. Vancil said.

First searches more than 15,000 stories daily.

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