Fiserv Inc. added a valuable jewel to its software crown last week, acquiring a pioneering image technology business from Cincinnati Bell Information Systems Inc.

The Cincinnati Bell products are attractive to banks that want to streamline operations by replacing paper documents with computerized pictures of the items.

Cincinnati Bell was one of the first companies to develop such applications for check processing.

George Dalton, Fiserv's chairman and chief executive officer, said he sees potential for the software's appeal to expand beyond traditional check imaging for big banks.

"We want to promote this more universally," Mr. Dalton said. "We can bring this down for the smaller institutions."

Until now, the technology has been employed largely by midsize and big banks, including First Chicago Corp. and Shawmut National Corp.

But Mr. Dalton intends to make the high-end imaging product available to the wider base of small banks, which predominate among Fiserv's customers.

In fact, the imaging technology has already become accessible to smaller banks through Fiserv service bureaus.

One client -- Home Banc Corp., a $350 million-asset institution headquartered in Rockford, Ill.--has been able to convert more than half its customers to imaged checks, according to John R. Perkins, the bank's executive vice president.

Like many community bankers, he sees check imaging as an area in which small institutions can score points against some of their larger competitors.

With the Cincinnati Bell acquisition, Fiserv is hoping to find that other institutions share Mr. Perkins' belief.

Fiserv handles about 1.75 billion checks per year through its service bureaus. It currently uses Cincinnati Bell software at three processing sites.

The acquisition is in keeping with a trend in which the Milwaukee-based technology services company, whose growth strategy relies heavily on acquisitions, has recently placed greater emphasis on software-based businesses.

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