Edibanx, a long-awaited financial electronic data interchange service, is scheduled to begin operations today.

Edibanx, the acronym for EDI Bank Alliance Network Exchange, is a service of the Chicago Clearing House Association.

The service will be used by an initial group of banks that have proved to the clearing house their abilities to perform all transactions and administrative messages.

NationsBank Corp., Charlotte, N.C. was among the first to receive certification to begin operations and is the only bank to announce its readiness to begin receiving transactions today.

"We're proud to be one of the original founders," said Nick Alex, senior vice president with NationsBank. "As of this morning, the initial operating group of banks that have been certified will be ready to process transactions."

The other participating banks are American National Corp., Chicago; BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco; Bank of America, Illinois; Cole Taylor Bank, Chicago; First Bank System, Inc., Minneapolis; First Chicago Corp.; Hams Bancorp., Chicago; LaSalle National Corp., Chicago; Mellon Bancorp., Pittsburgh; NBD Bancorp, Detroit; Northern Trust Corp., Chicago; and Shawmut National Corp., Hartford, Conn.

JoAnn Becker, senior vice president and EDI business manager with the Chicago Clearing House, took pride that competitive banks were able to set aside their typical rivalries to work together and develop the service.

With responsibilities for marketing and operations, Ms. Becket proclaimed Edibanx "a new era in banking." She said its formation was their response to the recent Banker's Roundtable report warning banks they were losing control of the payments system.

"If you look at the roundtable study, this is the response that is needed. We'll continue to build to retain the payments franchise and we believe Edibanx is the foundation to do that," Ms. Becker said.

A dozen corporations have been listed as the first to begin initiating and receiving payments and remittance information through Edibanx, including Motorola Inc., and Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Edibanx will settle on a net basis daily. Participating banks will send payments via Fed Wire to an Edibanx settlement account to settle net debits, or will receive wire transfers from the service to fund their net credit position.

Development of the service caught some bankers by surprise when it was introduced last March, according to Mary Ann Francis, vice president and manager of electronic products with National City Corp., Cleveland. At an EDI council meeting last March, the number one question on banker's minds was "Where did this group come from?" she asked, because the "group was put together in a quiet fashion."

Mr. Alex said that the list of banks working on the project needed to remain small to expedite its development and maintained that the list was representative of America geographically.

Now that the service is ready, Ms. Becker said 1995 will be the year for "actively marketing Edibanx to other banks."

Lawrence Forman, market research. manager with Ernst & Young, called the formation of the service "an excellent idea."

"They are trying to jump start something that's been predicted for years to explode," Mr. Forman said.

But he also noted the heavy Chicago influence of the participaring banks and remarked on the many cash management banks absent from the list, notably the New York banks, who "may have different strategies."

Mr. Forman theorized that perhaps institutions like Chase, Chemical, and Citicorp felt no need to become a part of a service in which they may lose competitive advantage.

When contacted, a spokesperson with a major New York bank that wished to remain anonymous called Edibanx "an interesting concept," but nevertheless expressed some doubts.

"We've looked at it, but it is extremely expensive. The short-term benefit is nominal and it's not critical that we be a part of it at this point in time," the spokesperson said.

Though Edibanx officials declined to reveal the price, other sources said the cost to join is $75,000.

"It's expensive," said Nat City's Ms. Francis. "We can do what we need to do without it."

But Ms. Becker said the issue of cost will be addressed this fall, and that two additional banks have expressed an interest in joining the service.

"We have heard them, and that's why we will revisit the issue, and we will act on it," Ms. Becker said.

"Like any new payment system that has safety and security built into it, the first pioneers will pay more," explained Mr. Alex. "It will catch on and that will allow it to be less expensive in the long run. I don't look at it as an expense; I look at it as a capital investment."

He pointed out the challenges the participating banks faced in working together to develop the service, including playing the matchmaker in negotiating with customer's payment habits, the technical readiness of trading partners, and the general teamwork displayed by officials from competing banks.

"There hasn't been any fighting on who will get to do this or that and I was surprised by that," Mr. Alex said.

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