An Indiana credit union is intent on being among the first U.S. financial institutions to rely on fingerprint identification of customers.

Executives at Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union in West Lafayette said they would use the biometric technique to verify the identities of members at three new, fully automated branches.

The $200 million-asset credit union, which already has five branches and a remote loan center, expects the kiosks to cost only half as much as branches to set up, said Gail Koehler, manager of special projects. The kiosks combine fingerprint software from National Registry Inc. with hardware developed by Real Time Data Management Services, Norfolk, Va.

"We're not looking to replace branches," she said. "We want to enhance the services that we already offer."

The "virtual" branches, which are actually stand-alone kiosks, are to be opened next spring, two near the campus of Purdue University and one nearby in Lafayette.

Real Time's Q-Man kiosks perform traditional branch functions. These include taking deposits and making withdrawals, taking loan applications and issuing loans by check, opening new accounts, and selling certificates of deposit.

Credit union members will get access to their accounts by placing an index finger over a glass-topped scanner. The identity software translates the print pattern to a number and compares it against a previously stored value.

Such software is more commonly used for security in corporate offices but is being touted by vendors for mass-market retail applications. National Registry's system bypasses personal identification numbers or passwords.

"It's more private and anonymous than a Social Security number, and it is meaningless to anyone else," said Colleen Madigan, director of financial marketing for the St. Petersburg, Fla., technology company.

Applicants to join the credit union will have both index fingers scanned, answer questions on the kiosk's touch-screen monitor, and be photographed by a camera installed in the system. Once approved for membership, the customer will be able to use the kiosk.

Unlike most automated teller machines, the kiosks will be available only to Purdue Employees' 40,000 members. They will not be connected to national or regional ATM networks to allow cash withdrawals by nonmembers, according to executives who are building the system.

The combination of software and hardware was chosen in response to members' demands for more high-tech services, said Ms. Koehler.

A similar prototype is in use at Richmond Federal Credit Union in Virginia but without the fingerprint function.

Officials at Real Time Data contend fingerprint identification will become more common in banking as the industry employs more automated delivery systems.

"Fingerprinting is more secure and accurate, especially for remote bank locations," said Ernest H. Sammons, president and chairman of Real Time Data. "The technology is more stable now. These products are becoming a reality in banks."

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