SunTrust Banks Inc. has formed a division in Atlanta to handle its remote banking activities.

The unit, SunTrust On-Line, handles all PC banking, Internet banking, and call-center activities.

"We've been doing all the functions of all the divisions on a decentralized basis; now we're centralizing them," said John McGuire, head of the new unit who was the former executive vice president of marketing.

"The interaction between the PC, Internet, and telebank is strong and so we can serve our customers better by bringing the three channels together," he said.

Many other financial institutions have set up units to handle remote banking. Mr. McGuire said SunTrust was careful not to form its unit too hastily.

"When you invest and make your move is important," he said. "I think you can be late but you can also invest too early. ... It's not always a question of if, but when and on what to make investments."

He noted that some banks have thrown money into technologies before consumers were ready to accept them. The lessons learned from such experiences can be expensive, he said.

SunTrust's 16 call centers currently are run by 28 local banks in four states: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. They receive 30 million calls a year.

In the next few months, these centers will be merged into four in Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, and Miami.

In the PC banking area, SunTrust offers services through a variety of personal financial management software, including Intuit Inc.'s Quicken and QuickBooks, Microsoft Corp.'s Money, and America Online's BankNow.

The bank's World Wide Web site is primarily informational, though it lets customers apply for credit cards, loans, and PC banking software.

Later this year the bank plans to introduce Internet-based transaction services.

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