Viewpointe Archive Services, the check imaging venture formed with IBM, reportedly was to have included Wells Fargo & Co. and First Union Corp.

"If you came here today and wanted to sign up for the service, you wouldn't be able to," a participant in Viewpointe Archive Services, the new bank-owned check imaging company told Bank Technology News at the recent retail delivery show.

The banks involved-Chase Manhattan Corp. and Bank of America Corp.- are shunning additional participation until they themselves go live with the service, added the source, who preferred not to be named. He works for Check Solutions Co., a Memphis, TN, IBM affiliate that is providing technology to the intended national check archive.

Viewpointe is scheduled to debut this quarter, "Wells Fargo (& Co.) and First Union (Corp.) were going to join, but they backed out because they felt they weren't ready," the source said, adding, "Wells Fargo will probably be the first Viewpointe customer." Wells had not responded to BTN's inquiry, as it went to press, immediately before Christmas. A First Union spokesperson said the bank wouldn't comment.

Viewpointe was announced last November as a completely independent entity that will facilitate the exchange of check images among banks.

"We're going to create a national, digital check archive," said Chase Executive Vice President William Hoefling during a teleconference. "It will eliminate the need for banks to actually touch checks up to 12 times during processing."

The three companies would not disclose the amount of equity each party has in Viewpointe.

The technology is based on a model used by Chase for three years. "We built an image archive, but without the ability to exchange with other banks, we couldn't realize the full benefits of it," Hoefling says. The platform also consists of various hardware and software products developed by IBM and its Memphis, TN, affiliate, check image solution provider Check Solutions Co.

Viewpointe member banks will capture digital images of checks and related items as they are processed and cleared and then transmit the images to either the Dallas or Boulder, CO-based IBM archiving centers.

IBM's interest in the venture may come as no surprise since the Armonk, NY-based company has been providing check processing technology for over 30 years, according to Robert Zapfel of IBM Global Services. "Over 90% of the top U.S. banks use check processing technology from IBM," he says.

Charlotte, NC-based Bank of America also has a major stake in Viewpointe. The bank's decision to be a partner in the venture was spurred by its desire to enhance service to its customers, according to www.BankofAmerica.com executive James Dixon. "We've joined with industry leaders to create a checking standard. For Bank of America, this will have a huge customer impact."

He sees BofA customers eventually accessing images of their checks via Web-enabled ATMs or at BankofAmerica.com. "Customers will be able to click on and print checks in seconds," Dixon says. "We want to create a balance between the high tech and high touch."

The three partners claimed the Viewpointe service will reduce banks' check processing costs by 30%. Chase and BofA combined clear over 50 million checks a day.

The venture partners have high hopes for Viewpointe. They expect "a significant number of the top 50 U.S. banks signed up within the next three years," Hoefling says.

Echoing this confidence, IBM's Zapfel declares Chase is providing a "proven, durable and scalable platform."

At press time, Viewpointe was officially scheduled to be operational at the end of 2000, but the archive was technically functional at the time of the announcement, according to Chase's Hoefling.

BofA was running a pilot in Atlanta during November with some of its Web-enabled ATMs.

The Viewpointe company will be headquartered in Houston. Initially, there will be 30 employees and that number is expected to grow to more than 60. While the founding companies' individual stakes were not disclosed, Hoefling says Viewpointe "is well capitalized." He adds that more equity partners are expected to join the venture soon.

Orla O'Sullivan also contributed to this article.

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