Visa International is offering to transmit images of sales receipts to member banks that request them.

The new service, called the VisaNet Image Gateway, has been designed to eliminate the transfer of paper from Visa to member banks. It will be available during the first quarter, Visa said.

With over 10 million acceptance locations and more than 292 million cards issued, Visa operates the world's largest consumer card payment system. In the first six months of this year, Visa processed 2.5 million "requests for copy," in response to which duplicates of disputed purchase receipts are provided to cardholders.

Copies Take at Least a Week

Without automation, fulfilling a customer's request for copy usually takes up to a week if the dispute is U.S.-based, said Christine Beckstead, vice president of settlement and clearing at Visa. Requests for copies on overseas charges can take two weeks or longer.

In 1991, to improve customer service and streamline this process, Visa launched Backoffice 2000, an automation effort with the mandate to reduce chargeback expenses by accelerating the processing of sales and the flow of document retrievals.

Image Gateway is the newest aspect of this program. In November 1991, when Backoffice 2000 was introduced, Visa installed special workstations at 50 banks worldwide. These workstations consisted of standardized hardware, software, and laser printers.

Visa then provided "acquirer" banks - those that manage merchant relationships - with document image scanners. These scanners enable the acquirer to digitize the original paper sales draft for computer processing.

Once the draft is found, it can be scanned into a workstation and electronically sent through Visa's network to the card issuer. At the issuer's side, the workstation produces a laser print of the draft copy.

The workstations maintain an inventory of answered or outstanding requests and can track their progress while avoiding duplicate requests. Banks no longer have to rely on the mail to receive the copies.

MasterCard Pioneered

Visa's new imaging option will follow a similar service already offered by bank card rival MasterCard International. MasterCard's system, called Mastercom has been in use since 1989.

The VisaNet Image Gateway is an enhancement to the existing workstation service and it is being aimed at the largest Visa issuers, ones that already use image processing and can see significant benefits from automating the request-for-copy process.

The VisaNet Image Gateway directly links the workstations to a bank's image processing mainframe computer. This will allow banks with high volumes to exchange documents with other members electronically.

Ms. Beckstead that after the system is up and running next year, banks will use it to exchange other kinds of information.

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