Marshall & Ilsley Corp. is smelling opportunity among the growing ranks of nonbanks that have applied for thrift charters.

It has launched a business unit, called Origins, to support the operations of nontraditional financial institutions. Origins will rely on the M&I Data Services service bureau unit and M&I's support services division.

Of the 174 organizations that have filed for thrift charters since 1997, 77 were not already engaged in banking activities, according to the Office of Thrift Supervision. Retailers, manufacturers, insurers, and agricultural and telecommunications companies are among those seeking federal charters or already operating thrifts.

Origins is intended to help these nonbanks "build a bank from scratch," said Greg Schmieding, manager of Origins.

The business will be run as a unit of M&I Data Services. Aside from a staff of 18 to 20 managers assigned solely to Origins, the unit will use existing resources and employees of M&I for technology and operations processing.

It will use the service bureau of M&I Data Services, which has 4,000 employees, to run the nonbanks' technology, including Internet banking and bill payment. Nonbanks are particularly interested in opening Internet banks, an M&I spokeswoman said. M&I Data Services already runs Internet banking operations for about 200 customers.

The facilities of M&I Support Services Corp., with 850 employees, will be used to support call center operations, deposit account servicing, loan servicing, and customer service. M&I Support Services has been incorporated for five years, and uses the M&I Integrated Banking System to provide bank services to financial institutions.

Origins expects to be able to speed time-to-market for nonbank thrift operations, Mr. Schmieding said, by providing guidance on basic elements of banking, such as regulatory compliance, product design, and bank policies and procedures.

M&I views nonbanks as a high growth area for the company's outsourcing business, Mr. Schmieding said. He predicted the business would be "highly profitable" in the next few years.

He said the new division is called Origins to reflect M&I's longtime presence in bank operations and technology. M&I Data Services has been processing data for banks in its service bureau since 1964, and has 2,000 customers today.

Other big outsourcing companies are also expanding their businesses by serving nonbank thrifts. Electronic Data Systems Inc. of Plano, Tex., is promoting Internet banking software to help insurance companies with thrift charters offer a broad range of on-line deposit and loan products. The platform supports a range of banking and insurance products, and cross- selling between them.

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