SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Strategic Mapping Inc., the largest desktop mapping firm in the country, is going after the banking industry.

The company has sold software to banks since it was rounded in 1983. But with the increased focus on the Community Reinvestment Act and fair lending, the demand for defining and analyzing lending communities has sharpened the company's interest in the banking market.

Banks use Strategic Mapping's software to track current and potential customers by census tract, race, and ethnicity. Banks also use the software to decide where to place branches and automated teller machines.

This type of information is valuable not only for a bank's business plan, but for the colorcoded maps executives can show to examiners.

"A lot of times when banks get into trouble it's not because of their lending policies," said David Radoff, a spokesman for Strategic Mapping. "It's because they don't know how to explain what they've done."

The ability to illustrate branching locations and lending is increasingly important as the government continues to crack down on lenders.

The Justice Department last week won an $11 million commitment from Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank after accusing Maryland's largest thrift of lending discrimination because it didn't have branches in minority areas.

With revenues of $40 million last year, Strategic Mapping is the leading desktop mapping firm. Its main competitors are Map Info Corp., Troy, N.Y., and Environmental Systems Research Ins titute Inc., Redlands, Calif.

Strategic Mapping has 50,000 customers, including half of the Fortune 500. For the past three years, the company's customer base has grown 50% annually.

Its software has helped the Centers for Disease Control monitor the spread of deadly diseases, the California Department of Food and Agriculture devise a plan to protect endangered plants and animals, and the Miller Brewing Co. to develop day-today strategies.

Last month, Strategic Mapping technology was included as part of the latest release of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet for Windows.

Also in August, the company launched Conquest for Windows, the first Windows-based information system that combines software application modules with demographic and business data. The system will be used by many industries, including banks, to analyze data and market to customers.

Out of the 100 data bases Strategic Mapping offers, 20 are designed for the financial services industry, which makes up 15% of the company's sales. Bank customers include Bank of America, NationsBank, First Interstate, and Citibank.

Although customers can buy its mapping software off the shelf, Strategic Mapping has been working to develop partnerships with other industries to offer more customized products.

"The most successful developers are becoming solutions providers, rather than simply vendors of do-it-yourself toolkits," company president Steven Poizner wrote in a recent newsletter.

One such partnership is with CFI ProServices, the. compliance software company m Portland, Ore. Strategic Mapping's geocoding technology is embedded in CFI's newest product, Pro Active, introduced in June. It is designed to help banks comply with fair lending laws and identify new markets and costs $10,000.

Matthew W. Chapman, chief executive at CFI, said his company shares Strategic Mapping's philosophy that such a partnership builds a stronger product. "Any time Strategic Mapping gets into something there are two types of expertise that are pulled in," he said.

The marketing aspects of CRA and fair lending make it a natural niche for Strategic Mapping, which acquired Donnelly Marketing Information Services from the Dun & Bradstreet Corp. in November 1993 to boost its data base and marketing force.

"CRA models our current approach," said Mr. Radoff. "It is just one slice of what a bank does. We provide the base knowledge and the base information and work with them to customize the software."

Depending on what a bank is looking for, Strategic Mapping decides either to build a customized product, or to develop a partnership.

For example, if a customer asks for a product that analyzes crime, Strategic Mapping might look for a partner that already works in the crime field.

Although it has decided financial services is one of its top target markets, along with packaged consumer goods and retail products, the company plans to make use of the banking expertise already in the market.

"We really should get the best people in the banking industry to work on banking modules," Mr. Radoff said.

Mr. Radoff sees interstate banking as the newest opportunity. The legislation, expected to become law in September, would allow banks to branch across state lines.

This new freedom would require banks to figure out how to market a wider variety of products as well as to decide who will buy what.

Mr. Radoff compares a bank to a supermarket. "Everybody goes to the market for milk, but not everybody buys diapers," he said. "Banks need to understand a new market in a more detailed way."

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