Credit Unions are spending more on automated teller machines than ever before, in a bid to attract more bank customers.

Officials at several of the nation's largest regional ATM networks say credit union participation in teller-machine sharing is at an all-time high.

In addition, InterBold, the nation's second-largest manufacturer of the machines, reports that credit unions last year invested 40% more in them than they did in 1987.

Extension of Service

Like banks, credit unions view teller machines as a way to extend basic banking services without adding buildings or staff.

And while credit union expenditures for the machines are not likely to ever approach those of commercial banks, many observers believe credit unions that use ATMs will be better able to complete for customers.

"Credit unions view the ATM as a means to attract new members," said David Marquis, deputy director at the National Credit Union Administration, the federal agency that regulates and insures more than 14,000 members institutions.

Credit unions "hold a lot of advantages over banks in areas like consumer lending, and installing ATMs dramatically improves the line of basic services at many credit unions," Mr. Marquis said.

Access Is Improved

He added that one of the typical knocks against credit unions is that customers do not have easy access to their funds. With teller machines, credit union customers are given much the same access to their funds as commercial bank customers.

And since credit unions can offer a lot of services that banks are restricted from selling, such as insurance, the potential for wooing customers away from banks is growing.

While bankers do not view the credit union industry's increased use of teller machines as a specific threat, they see the technology initiative as symptomatic of a larger problem.

Plea for Level Field

"They look like banks, and the do business like they are banks, but they sure aren't regulated like banks," said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association in Washington. "The banks welcome open competition for business, but only if the playing field is going to be level."

"If their purchase of equipment is any indication, credit unions are getting into a lot of areas that use to be completely bank-dominated," said R. David Nein, an marketing manager at InterBold, the teller-machine venture of Diebold Inc. and International Business Machines Corp.

Mr. Nein noted that credit unions have bought machines with advanced functions more often than banks have.

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