RICHMOND, Va. - Signet Banking Corp. is conducting one of the nation's boldest experiments in "branchless" banking. Using data base technology that it refined in its now-divested credit card operation, Signet is able to offer direct personal loans to customers thousands of miles from its home base in Richmond.

The so-called loan-by-check program uses data base marketing and direct mail to provide targeted customers with checks of as much as $10,000. All the customer has to do is cash the check at his local bank, since the credit has already been approved by Signet.

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