A small technology company has started selling a computerized telephone answering service that some bankers hope will save them money and improve customer communications.

Atlanta-based Strategic Solutions Group Inc. will run the telephone system like a service bureau, answering customer inquiries around the clock about mortgages, loans, investments, and bank services.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," said Terry Williams, executive vice president of Margaretten & Co. of Perth Amboy, N.J., which plans to start using the telephone service bureau nationwide later this year.

Lower Cost, Expanded Hours

Margaretten, the country's 13th-largest mortgage originator, expects to boost service by answering consumer questions after normal business hours, and to cut costs by minimizing the time employees spend answering basic questions from prospects, Mr. Williams explained.

At least two other companies have signed up to use the telephone service bureau; Middle-kauff Mortgage Co., a small, privately held broker in Jacksonville, Fla., and First Mortgage Corp. of Tempe, Ariz., according to Mr. Goetz.

Bankers said the telephone service is unique because it lets consumers do "what if" inquiries, to determine, for example, how much it would cost to refinance a mortgage.

Generating Prospects

The computers also generate a list of prospects, along with the information they entered into the vendor's computers.

Mr. Goetz said Strategic Solutions for years has sold telephone answering systems that banks can buy for $25,000 to $75,000. Customers include Citibank, First Chicago Corp., and NationsBank.

The new service bureau costs only a few hundred dollars per month and is targeted at small community banks that can't afford their own equipment, Mr. Goetz said.

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