Synovus Financial Corp. is using check scanners as a loss leader in some of its local markets to retain the depositary business of its commercial clients, executives said.

David Durland, the president of First State Bank and Trust Co., a Valdosta, Ga., unit of Synovus, said he began offering the scanners two years ago, initially to First State's biggest deposit customers, such as a local hospital and property management firms, as a defensive measure against larger competitors.

Since then the bank has sold more than 125 of the scanners, sometimes for as little as half their cost, though First State tries to cover its cost and generally gets at least 75% to 80% of the machines' price, Mr. Durland said in an interview this month.

First State offers relatively inexpensive scanners from Digital Check Corp. to keep its costs down, and the payoff is in customer loyalty, Mr. Durland said.

"In the long run, it's going to be best to have those scanners in place," he said. "Chances are we've got that customer for a long, long time."

The arrangement also improves customer traffic in First State's four branches, Mr. Durland said. "We are reducing the number of commercial transactions that run through the bank, especially the large ones that take a long time."

The service has benefits even for customers such as attorneys who may have only a few checks to deposit each day, he said. "They like the flexibility of making those deposits whenever it suits them."

Kenneth Richey, the enterprise deposit manager and director of cash management at Synovus, said the $34.2 billion-asset Columbus, Ga., banking company would not necessarily use the same strategy everywhere, though some other Synovus units are beginning to use similar ones.

"We took the approach early on that we weren't going to take big discounts in our item processing fees," he said, and today more than 20% of the bank's deposits come in by way of remote image capture.

Paul Rupple, the director of marketing at Digital Check, said his company offers "quick start" financing for banks that do not want to sell the machines at a discount. "We're selling as many as we can make at this point."