Comerica Inc., a check imaging pioneer, is taking another technological step forward with a digital archive from IA Corp.

"We feel that for us to be able to continue to be a leader in image technology in banking ... this is the next step," said Scott H. Smith, vice president of Comerica's project services group. The Detroit-based bank will use the archive for new image-based products and to cut operational costs, Mr. Smith said.

Comerica is on "the leading edge of a trend among larger banks to put more check images into archives and work from archives," said David Medeiros, technology analyst for Tower Group, Wellesley, Mass.

"Until recently, image archives have been the province of smaller banks rather than larger banks," because lower check volumes made archives easier to install and maintain, Mr. Medeiros said.

IA's All Items Archive is "a central electronic filing system, which will be used by various applications and various departments," said Thierry Leger, vice president of marketing for the Emeryville, Calif.-based software provider.

There will be two tiers of image storage in the archive: magnetic disks and magnetic tapes in silos. The checks drawn from the bank's own accounts (so-called "on us" checks) will be held on disk for 35 business days. Those from other banks ("transit" items) will be held for three business days, Mr. Smith said. The images then will be transferred to the tapes and kept for seven years.

The new archive is expected to be fully operational in August and should be handling about 2.4 million prime pass items daily. "We're going to be consolidating some of the Texas and California volumes into our archive to allow them to take advantage of some of the new image-based products that are coming out," Mr. Smith said.

"We have a small-scale archive running today," said Shawna Stothers, assistant vice president of product development at the $34 billion-asset bank. The current archival procedure calls for rescanning the check images of select customers after the first round of processing.

The bank's first archive product, a CD-ROM containing a commercial customer's monthly paid items, has been available since October, Ms. Stothers said.

IA has provided the software that these customers use to access the images and to build an index of check information, she added.

Once the All Items Archive is installed, images will be collected the first time checks pass through the processing system. From a product perspective, there are two advantages to this method of gathering images: a higher-integrity product and quicker availability of images, Ms. Stothers said.

The bank expects the new archive to reduce operational costs by eliminating microfilm records, Mr. Smith said. The bank projects that it will stop microfilming after the archive has been fully operational for three months.

"We believe that it is going to translate into millions of dollars a year annually in savings and additional revenue for the corporation," Mr. Smith said.

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