Signet Banking Corp., a pioneer in check imaging, has installed a system to store images.

The archive system, supplied by IA Corp., Emeryville, Calif., is one of the largest in the banking industry.

In 1991, Signet was one of four banks to install what was then the most advanced check imaging system, built by Unisys Corp. The bank's early entrance into image processing paved the way for its use of archiving.

With the archive, the $12 billion-asset banking company expects to develop cash management services and to streamline back-office operations, said Michael C. Clien, senior vice president.

Signet joins Comerica Inc. and Union Bank of California, a unit of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., in using IA Corp.'s All Items Image Archive, said Thierry Leger, vice president of marketing at IA.

One benefit of the archive is the way it can help banks handling customer requests for check information. The time needed to get a copy of a check is "reduced from two to three days to a matter of hours," Mr. Clien said.

In addition, an image archive can help a bank rid itself of the expenses and storage hassles associated with microfilm. Signet plans to eliminate microfilm during the next 18 months, Mr. Clien said.

While admitting that image archiving appears expensive, Mr. Clien said the payback makes it economically viable.

An increasing number of customers-particularly corporate customers-are willing to pay for the convenience of check images. And this is helping the business case for image archiving, said John A. McGann, a principal consultant at Input Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., research firm.

Signet already makes images available to corporate customers via CD-ROM. The archive will let the bank offer on-line access to canceled checks.

The data stored in the archive will also be used to do marketing analysis, including depositor profiles, Mr. Clien said.

Such data mining "is obviously one of the potential applications" of a check image archive, said IA's Mr. Leger. "It is hard to describe what and how it will be done, but there is a lot of information dormant that could be used for the future."

For example, a bank could determine "patterns of payment and problems in payment" that can be used in credit analysis, Mr. McGann said.

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