CHICAGO - Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa., and Banctec; Systems Inc., Dallas, separately announced this week new systems aimed at helping community banks get into check image technology.

At a conference here on image technology, Unisys and Banctec each unveiled personal computer-based systems designed to produce monthly account statements containing miniature pictures of checks.

Most banks expect to offer these so-called image statements in the next few years, thereby eliminating the need to return the actual paper items to customers. In fact, the American Banker's 1992 technology survey found that about 95% U.S. banks are interested in using check imaging.

Mainframe Hurdle

But the first generation of check image statements systems available to banks were mainframe computer-based and cost millions of dollars to install.

So far only a handful of la institutions, such as Fleet Financial Group and First Chicago Corp., produce image statement A few community banks have tried to defray the technology's big start-up costs by contracting such a service bureau, such as Nationar in New York, and EDS Corp. in Dallas

But with the advent of PC-based systems, the cost of installing image statement systems has dropped to between $200,000 and $400,000 for hardware and software.

Banctec's First Buyer

In addition to the Banctec and Unisys systems, NCR Corp. has a PC-based system on the market, which it introduced earlier this year.

"It's a service that customers are going to come to expect in a few years," John E. Jones, chairman of Glenview State Bank in Glenview, Ill., said of image statements. "It makes sense to try and capitalize on being an early entrant."

Mr. Jones' bank, a family owned and operated institution with about $400 million in assets, is the first customer of Banctec's new PC-based statement system. Installation is set for December.

After the system is up and running Glenview State Bank will be only the second bank in northern Illinois to issue image statements. First Chicago is the other bank.

Unity Bank in the Lead

A similar scenario is taking place in the Southeast, where the $141 million-asset Unity Bank and Trust Co., Rocky Mount, N.C., beat all its intraregional competition - including the technologically innovative First Union Corp. - in getting the new statements to market.

Image statements do promise some operational benefits, such as reduced mailing costs. And most observers see them as products that can be used to generate revenue.

Also, if a financial institution is among the first offering image statements, it may be able to win a bigger share of the demand deposit market.

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