Bank: Sovereign Bank
Problem: A need to expand the small-business customer base.
Solution: Free tools that improve client operations for business account openings.

Sovereign Bank of Boston, a subsidiary of Banco Santander of Spain, is well known for being the base for Santander's aggressive push into American retail banking, via auto lending and other consumer products. What's lesser known is that Santander's plans include a big commercial effort as well. In November, when the bank announced that it received regulatory approval to convert to a U.S. national banking charter (which it expects to do in early 2012), it cited "in particular, large corporations" as a nationwide target for stateside expansion goals.

Recent efforts have focused on smaller businesses, including a remote deposit capture promotion in which Sovereign provides one free Epson CaptureOne check image scanner to any corporate customer that signs up for the bank's remote check deposit service. The deal follows Sovereign's announcement in May that it would provide $1 billion in loans to help small and midsize businesses grow, in part by providing fee discounts on lines of credit. Such short-term working capital used to fund inventory is a mainstay of business banking. The bank also held a yearend contest offering any small company that opened a Sovereign corporate checking account the chance to win $50,000.

The deal with Epson aims to entice small businesses into the Sovereign fold by helping the companies improve their accounts receivable operations by deploying onsite scanners that capture check images and send the deposits electronically to the bank for processing. Sovereign clients signing up for a new account receive either a single- or multi-feed (batch) Epson scanner, whichever type they request. According to the rules, the free model provided depends on the type of business involved, and the specifics of the Sovereign checking account a firm opens: CaptureOne includes batch models that scan, according to Epson, 30, 60 and 90 documents per minute (DPM). The bank also offers Panini (50, 75 and 100 DPM) in certain circumstances, and Canon CR190i for clients with larger volumes. Sovereign says it would consider offering the latter models for free upon request.

"Sovereign added the Epson CaptureOne to enhance our line of available scanners," says Michael Curran, executive vice president and director of transactional banking at Sovereign. "As we strategically grow our remote deposit capture business and client base, we will be able to leverage Epson's customer service, marketing and promotional support. Sovereign is committed to providing business clients with convenient and affordable products and services that help them succeed and grow."

After "an extensive effort" that began in March to select another scanner to offer customers, Curran says Sovereign chose Epson CaptureOne because of its "strong MICR read accuracy," which refers to an ability to have a computer correctly read account and routing numbers on checks even if they're obscured or overprinted, using magnetic ink character recognition. Epson's offer of a two-year manufacturer's warranty on the devices also stood out from other scanners, Curran says.

Manufacturers of check scanners are numerous but include Addmaster, BancTec, Burroughs, Canon, CTS, Digital Check, Epson, Kodak, MagTek, Maverick, NCR, Panini, Pertech, RDM and Seac Banche. Hardware vendors like Diebold have also recently promoted remote deposit Web portals that use scanners customers already have in their offices, so banks can limit scanner provision to certain customer niches.

Sovereign's remote deposit service works like this: Check images from the desktop scanner are electronically transmitted via the Internet to the bank for processing. Because it's "100% Web-based," Curran says, hardware and software updates are both provided for download with no need for software installation or maintenance. The service includes reporting and an ability to export data into Excel, ASCII and QuickBooks formats for accounting needs. Companies can also convert eligible checks for speedier processing into electronic payments via automated clearing house services. All information, including reports, check data and images are accessible to customers, archived for two years, searchable based on multiple criteria or date ranges and secured by firewalls and 128-bit encryption. Clients can set up multiple account numbers, locations and users. Sovereign supports the service with training, scanner installation and on-call help with technical questions, Curran says.

Sovereign promotes the on-site check deposit service by saying it "brings the bank to the customer," as it enables companies to make check deposits without leaving their place of business. By doing so, Curran says, "business owners can save time, courier expenses and improve their cash flow with extended deposit deadlines."