A new alliance has formed to allow community banks in the Southeast to offer home banking services to their clients.

SmartPay, a national provider of electronic bill-payment services has partnered with Intercept, an electronic funds transfer services provider, to promote home banking products and services.

The partnership enables Norcross, Ga.-based Intercept to offer SmartPay's home banking and bill-payment services to its financial institution clients.

The service lets customers pay bills and perform other home banking functions by touch-tone telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"SmartPay puts us on the street immediately with a good bill payment service," said Intercept president Ronney Henderson.

The company, which provides electronic funds transfers for 225 community banks throughout the Southeast, has just started rolling out the service to its clients. One customer that served as the test site - Fort Lauderdale's Bank of North America - was on-line in mid-June, said Mr. Henderson.

The partnership gives Bellevue, Neb.-based SmartPay the opportunity to market its services to a group of institutions, said Richard P. Fitzgerald, vice president and director of sales at the company. The alliance also makes economical sense for Intercept, he said, because it gets a service that is already in place.

"Organizations that service financial institutions are finding that by outsourcing product needs to companies like us, they can shop and find the one that best fits their needs," he said.

An advantage of SmartPay, particularly for community banks, is that the service provides them with a bill-payment system that is more cost effective, said Mr. Henderson.

"Financial institutions choosing to develop electronic home banking systems in-house must invest heavily in software and hardware," he said. "With SmartPay, any financial institution can offer electronic home banking services without the need to staff and maintain a complex operation."

As a result of the partnership, the Intercept and SmartPay data processing units are linked, so that when bill-paying customers perform transactions, their accounts will be automatically debited.

Each bank will have its own customized bill-payment package, said Mr. Henderson. Initially, the service will support telephone access.

Personal computer access will be added later, he said.

Mr. Henderson said he expects a number of Intercept clients to sign up for the service, particularly those in the larger cities.

"The demand for bill-payment service is higher in the metropolitan areas than rural areas," he said. He expects 10 to 15 of the 60 banks the company processes in Florida to sign up; in Georgia, where the company serves about 100 banks, he expects a 5% to 10% penetration; and a 2% penetration in Alabama and the Carolinas.

"If, in the next year, Intercept signs 25 to 30 banks, we will be very pleased," he said. "The timing is right for home bill-payment services. There seems to be a lot of interest in it."

SmartPay, a four-year-old company, spent its first two years developing and testing its home banking service, The service was rolled out to a group of core institutions for trials from October 1992 to May 1993.

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