Societe Generale is using the Internet in a bid to become the world's leading euro clearer.

It has attracted nearly 70 financial institutions as clients for an Internet-based service that allows real-time access to euro accounts. With the January introduction of WebClear, Societe Generale became the first European bank to offer intra-day euro account updates.

The more convenient access to data has resulted in a 50% reduction in customer inquiries, said Alain Besnard, head of marketing and sales for Societe Generale. As a result, he said, "our clients and account managers can spend their time more productively."

Societe Generale is preparing for a shakeout in euro clearing as 11 local European currencies get phased out over the next two years.

The French bank already clears one in four euro transactions in France, which handles 25% of the world's euro executions, bank officials said. According to its own estimates, Societe Generale has 6% of the global market for euro clearing.

Besides showing customers' current account balances, the WebClear screen displays a picture of the customer's Societe Generale account manager and the manager's e-mail address, phone number, and street address, as well as a short biography. The aim is to enhance the relationship between clients and account managers, Mr. Besnard said.

Though client accounts are maintained in Paris, Societe Generale offers service from New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Singapore to eliminate time and language barriers. Representatives in all the service centers view the same WebClear screens as their clients.

To ensure the service does not get bogged down by too many users, WebClear is being marketed only to Societe Generale's biggest clients for a nominal one-time fee, Mr. Besnard said. Banks using WebClear include Northern Trust in London, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Toronto and Singapore, Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, and National Bank of Canada in Montreal.

The French settlement system for securities, Relit Grande Vitesse-"real- time system with great speed"-has helped France become a dominant player in the euro market and dispel predictions that Germany would be the hands-down financial center for the new European Monetary Union, Mr. Besnard said.

The French system was cited as a benchmark by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank. The system makes intra-day liquidity management much easier than in other euro countries, Mr. Besnard said.

Societe Generale is "taking advantage of this environment to provide our clients with high-quality and innovative cross-border payment services," he said.

For example, Societe Generale uses the French system's flexibility to offer an intra-day repurchase agreement through which the bank can provide financial institutions with liquidity in exchange for treasury bonds on a real-time basis. This option is marketed internationally.

All banks in the 11 euro countries can gain access to the Target gross payment system for euro settlement operated by the European Central Bank in Germany.

Only 70 banks worldwide have access to the Euro Banking Association net settlement system, a private-sector euro clearing alternative to Target. Societe Generale processes 11% of the euro transactions cleared through the Euro Banking Association.

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