ORLANDO -- Private automated clearing house systems are now too expensive for widespread use in the Southeast, although competitive and pricing developments could make them affordable in the future, a bank-sponsored study has concluded.

The study was commissioned by the Southeast Switch Inc., of Maitland, Fla., operator of the Honor automated teller machine network, and the regional automated clearing house associations in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. It was conducted by Global Concepts, a consulting firm in Atlanta.

The study found that the private automated clearing house systems run by Visa U.S.A., the New York Clearing House, and Arizona Clearing House Association charge about 95 cents an item.

Need for Savings Cited

These groups compete with the Federal Reserve, which handles the vast majority of automated clearing house transactions in the country, including every transaction in the Southeast.

The study said that the leading banks in the Southeast will pass traffic to private systems only if they offer savings of at least 20% over the Federal Reserve, because the banks are pleased with the Fed's service.

This would mean that the privately operated automated clearing houses would have to cut their prices roughly in half. These price levels would also have to be maintained by a private system contemplated by the Southeast's automated clearing house assoications and the Southeast Switch.

"The bottom line is that the private sector doesn't appear to be desirable at the present time" in the Southeast, said Bill Brushwood, a group vice president of SunTrust Service Corp., in Orlando.

Rising Volumes, Falling Costs

Mr. Brushwood is also chairman of the Southeast Switch's automated clearing house advisory committee.

But the situation could change. The study noted that automated clearing house volumes are rising, and per-item processing costs are falling, which means that by as early as 1996, if the Fed keeps its prices constant, privately operated automated clearing houses may be cost-effective in the Southeast.

Furthermore, a privately operated automated clearing house could be seen as a valuable utility for furthering other businesses, such as financial electronic data interchange. The study also noted that if one leading bank built a private system, its competitors would likely feel compelled to build a rival system, even if they lost money.

As a result, the study recommended that banks, teller machine networks, and automated clearing house associations continue to study the feasibility of using private automated clearing houses in the Southeast.

One group heeding this advice is Southeast Switch, which plans to do a detailed study of operating such a system, said Charles K. Lefevre, a senior vice president.

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