Fleet Financial Group Inc. has upgraded its membership in the Electronic Check Clearing House Organization.

An associate member of the electronic check presentment group for about five years, Fleet has chosen to become a full member, which entitles it to participate on the operations committee and board of directors.

The eight-year-old clearing house has 34 bank holding companies as members. Bank interest in check automation alternatives is growing, and Fleet's desire for full status may reflect that.

Eccho maintains that electronic check presentment, which automates the initial processing of a paper-based funds transfer, can provide $2 billion to $3 billion a year of benefit to the industry through fraud reduction and faster turnaround time.

Hayden Watson, Fleet's managing director for bank operations, is returning to the fold. While in previous posts at Wells Fargo & Co. and now-defunct First Interstate Bancorp, Mr. Watson was president and director of Eccho. He is expected to return to the board later this year.

Fleet chose to upgrade its membership because it is enhancing its electronic check presentment capabilities, which it has owned since acquiring National Westminster Bancorp in 1996. Over the next year, Fleet plans to exchange checks electronically with 27 banks. Fleet now sends electronic checks to seven banks and began receiving from one on April 24, Mr. Watson said.

"We expect to be exchanging with a large number of partners, which really creates the need for us to be a full member because it makes economic sense for the bank," Mr. Watson said.

Fleet's participation is also important to Eccho as it seeks to expand its activity in New England.

"The more banks that participate in these exchanges, the closer the industry gets to achieving the $2 billion to $3 billion in our vision statement," said David Walker, Eccho executive director. "In addition to having additional value for Fleet, it increases the value for other banks."

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