Electronic check conversion, a payment service hampered by the bank industry's reluctance to back it with development capital, won a major backer as credit card giant Visa U.S.A. said on Thursday that it plans a pair of pilot efforts for systems it would develop and license to banks.

The technology, which allows merchants to accept checks and treat them as electronic payments at the point of sale, has been viewed by many in the banking industry as an interim step to be avoided if possible. But that view depended on expectations that the popularity of checks as a payment form would fade.

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