Searching for new customers, a community bank in Louisiana is using technology to expand service beyond traditional branches.

Jefferson Guaranty Bank, a $270 million-asset institution based in Metairie, plans to offer remote banking through video centers, telephones, screen phones, personal computers, and the Internet.

This immersion in remote banking services is notable for such a small institution. Bank officials say such services will play a crucial part in Jefferson's effort to compete with larger competitors, such as Premier Bancorp, Hibernia Corp., First National Bank of Commerce, and Whitney Holding Corp.

"We've committed to a high-tech 'virtual banking' strategy," said John Ballatin, executive vice president, and coordinator of technology initiatives.

The first new service, a video banking center unveiled July 14 at a local mall, is a fully automated minibranch where customers can conduct practically any type of banking transaction with the help of a video-linked representative at the bank's headquarters.

The 150-square-foot center includes a night depository and automated teller machine along an outer wall, and a private video conferencing area inside where customers can apply for loans, open accounts, purchase CDs, and perform other transactions.

The bank plans to deploy video centers in other high-traffic locations to cost-effectively supplement its traditional branches, said Mr. Ballatin. At a cost of $170,000, a video center is much cheaper to build than million-dollar brick-and-mortar branches.

In addition, being the first in the area to offer such service helps the bank appear progressive in the eyes of customers, and creates "top-of-mind awareness" in new markets, said Mr. Ballatin.

The bank hopes to build this awareness using a variety of marketing tactics in conjunction with the video center.

For example, the center's outside monitor plays a continuous loop that entices passersby to press a button to get a guided tour of the center and to register for a $500 mall shopping spree.

In the first four days of operation, 700 people registered for the shopping spree, said Mr. Ballatin. "We got the names and addresses of a lot of people who never knew about our bank."

Adding to this, the center's ATM, with each withdrawal transaction, dispenses coupons for discounts at participating mall merchants.

Through the center, the bank is acquiring commercial accounts from mall merchants that it wouldn't have under normal circumstances, said Mr. Ballatin.

The center is also helping the bank penetrate the upscale segment of customers who live near and shop at the mall, he said.

The video centers are just one component of the bank's alternative delivery strategy.

In August, the bank will introduce a 24-hour automated telephone banking line and an agent-assisted phone line for banking during extended hours and on weekends. An electronic bill paying service, provided through SmartPay Processing Inc., will also be offered.

By the end of the year, the bank may provide home banking and bill payment via Northern Telecom screen phones and PCs.

Within the next several months, the bank's home page on the Internet will provide customers with information and the ability to complete forms such as loan applications. Eventually, the bank would like to provide access to banking transactions through the Internet, and help its merchant customers develop home pages of their own.

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