Premier Bancorp is rolling out a low-cost cash management service for its small-business customers, using software and network services from Harbinger Corp.

Premier officials said the new service is part of an effort to cater to small businesses, which account for the majority of the Baton Rouge, La., bank's commercial business. In fact, 95% of the Louisiana commercial banking market is made up of businesses with annual sales of less than $5 million, according to Pam Kimball, a vice president with the $5.5 billion- asset bank.

"We realized we have to be price sensitive," Ms. Kimball said. "Small businesses can't afford the expensive setup charges associated with the high-end product."

The high-end product is an end-to-end automated balance reporting system provided by Mellon Bancorp.

The bank's new service, called Premier Connection, is based on a generic product developed by Atlanta-based Harbinger.

It is an integrated, end-to-end cash accounting system that gives corporate customers on-line access to bank records. This allows customers to view account balances and transaction details, and to transfer funds between accounts, including those maintained at other banks.

In the past, Premier had performed these tasks on behalf of clients and conveyed the transaction information to small businesses via telephone, fax, or in person.

The new service "eliminates a lot of interaction or physical trips to the bank," Ms. Kimball said. Customers' time is "utilized efficiently, as is the bank's time," she said.

The service gives users a "host of information available at their fingertips," she added.

Harbinger operates one of the nation's largest value-added networks, consists of over more than 24,000 on-line mailboxes, of which nearly 8,000 are "banking specific," said George S. Hart, a senior vice president with the firm.

"We are pleased to be Premier's product and marketing partner," he said.

He said Premier will use the system as part of an effort to expand its deposits, cross-sell products and services, and obtain "more banking business from these critically important small-business customers."

The service can help the bank deliver specialized accounts, preferred credit cards, and lines of credit. Offering a wider range of products "strengthens relationships with the end user," Mr. Hart said.

A wider range of products encourages small businesses to consolidate more of their dollars with a bank, because a full complement of services allows users better information about their cash flows and greater control of their money, Mr. Hart said.

The PC-based software upon which Premier's service is based, called InTouch Cash Manager, is used by about 2,000 small businesses.

Officials with Harbinger and Premier tailored the software to fit the Louisiana marketplace by removing some features and adding others. The system was tested with about 15 of Premier's customers.

Other customers using Harbinger's service include BankAmerica Corp., Barnett Banks Inc., and First of America Bank Corp.

Premier's pricing includes a one-time charge of $98.50 for purchasing the software, and a $24.50 monthly charge for an account that allows up to 200 transactions.

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