A prediction for the millennium: There will be many more bank branches in supermarkets.

That not-very-surprising news comes from John W. Garnett, president of Atlanta-based International Banking Technologies, a subsidiary of First Data Corp., which recently reported a 25% increase in bank supermarket branches in 1995, to 3,142.

Mr. Garnett said he expects an even bigger increase this year, and continued growth for the foreseeable future.

International Banking's arch-rival, Memphis-based National Commerce Bank Service Inc., recently predicted that supermarket branches would grow from 3,000 now to 7,500 by the year 2000.

To be sure, both companies have a vested interest. Their business is to help banks and supermarkets operate in-store branches. But vendor officials said there is no other reliable source that tallies supermarket branches. And bankers said the vendors' numbers seemed reasonable.

"I think those numbers are about right," said Richard C. Hartnack, vice chairman and retail banking chief of Union Bank in San Francisco.

Bankers and vendors say that more supermarket branches are being built because more bankers and grocers are convinced of their merits. For example, about five supermarket branches can be built for the cost of one traditional branch, according to Mr. Garnett.

Banks can also see more prospective customers in supermarkets than in traditional branches. John M. Presley, chief financial officer of National Commerce Bank Services, figures 20,000 to 30,000 people come into a typical supermarket in a week, many more than come into a traditional branch.

Supermarkets also benefit from increased shopping. In a recent survey of nearly 800 shoppers in 20 states, National Commerce Bank Services found that 70% shopped more frequently after their supermarket added a bank branch.

Seventy-nine percent used the supermarket branches at least once a week, and 93% rated an in-store bank branch as "important" or "very important."

Numbers like these have prompted some big banks to make a big push into supermarket branching. The biggest effort is coming from San Francisco- based Wells Fargo & Co. By yearend, the company plans to have three- quarters of its 1,075 branches in supermarkets. In 1994, only 6% of its 615 branches were in grocery stores.

Mr. Hartnack said Union Bank runs about 30 supermarket branches. It plans to open another 20 by 1998. Union started operating supermarket branches in 1989. Though the branches overall are not yet meeting the corporate hurdle rate for return on investment, those that opened first are.

The best places to open supermarket branches are in middle-income areas populated with two-income families, Mr. Hartnack said. Such families are pressed for time and covet the convenience of banking in supermarkets.

BankAmerica Corp. last year more than tripled its full-service supermarket branches to 51. Bank South Corp., which was recently acquired by NationsBank Corp., is also a leader in supermarket branching, with 50 branches. These branches are descendants of a supermarket branch network started by International Banking, formerly part of Heritage Bank. Bank South bought Heritage in 1987.

All but 15 of Memphis-based National Commerce Bancorp's 77 branches are in supermarkets. Mr. Presley said these branches are the primary reason National Commerce has an above-average 1.53% return on assets and 18% return on equity. National Commerce Bank Services is a unit of National Commerce Bancorp. It set up the $3.6 billion-asset bank's supermarket branch network.

The key to success in supermarket branching is to make the branches hotbeds of new sales, rather than of deposit and withdrawal transactions, Mr. Presley said.

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