Keycorp, the nation's 12th-largest banking company, has joined the growing number of institutions using image technology for lockbox applications.

Retail lockbox payments consist of consumer to corporate payments for various services including cable television and credit card bills.

Cleveland-based Keycorp has begun testing Banctec Inc.'s Image First remittance processing technology and plans to make image-based services available to customers in the next few weeks.

"We believe this is the next generation of lockbox processing technology," said Linda Grandstaff, executive vice president of Keycorp's commercial services group.

"This system will give us more control of the operation and reduce human interaction with the payments, giving us increased efficiency and productivity."

Keycorp each month processes over four million retail lockbox payments, with an estimated value of over $400 million, through eight processing centers scattered throughout the country.

Ms. Grandstaff said the system cost over $2 million and has already been installed in the bank's Cleveland processing center. The bank plans to have all its remittance customers converted to the system by the end of 1995.

Image First operates in an open-system architecture using technology that reads printed and written words and numbers.

Once the characters are recognized, the equipment encodes the documents with magnetic ink.

With the character recognition software, which is based on neural network technology, the bank expects to reduce the number of items it encodes manually by 45%.

"The remaining 55% will be passed through operators, who will enter the information into the system. The items will then be coded electronically," said Carlton Peace, assistant vice president and lockbox product manager at Keycorp.

Ms. Grandstaff said one of the system's long-term benefits is its ability to provide customers with check images on a same-day basis through a terminal or personal computer.

The bank also intends to provide the data on CD-ROMs. "Our plan is to begin rolling out the information on disks within the next two years," Ms. Grandstaff said.

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