To boost the profit potential of its automated teller machine network, Wells Fargo Bank has begun to offer a service that enables customers to transfer money overseas without writing a check.

The service, which Wells calls the ATM Remittance Account, initially will be available for United States-Philippines transfers, but the bank hopes to roll the service out to other areas soon.

The service is viewed by Wells executives as a way to get more customers using its huge network of close to 1,800 ATMs, as well as attracting new customers to the bank.

"Banks are looking for enhanced functionality, and Wells has found an area that really serves a need," said Anne Morgan Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp., Atlanta.

"Wells has certainly been an innovator, but this is really smart," she added. "It's a fee-income product that may, eventually, help develop a relationship and get these people to use more services." To use the new ATM service, a customer deposits money into a specially designated ATM Remittance Account at any Wells ATM, or calls the San Francisco-based bank's telephone customer service line and transfers funds from another Wells account. The customer's beneficiary can then withdraw the funds the next business day, using a new ATM card known as the Remittance Cash Card at one of more than 300 ATMs in the Philippines. The fee is $8 per use.

Previously, customers could order an electronic wire transfer to the Philippines through any Wells branch, for a cost of $42.

Although Wells would not say how many customers have signed up for the service, which began last week, a spokesman said there is a lot of interest among the bank's 40,000 Filipino-American customers. He said the bank may even attract new business from among the approximately one million Filipinos living in California.

The technology supporting the new service is a link between Wells ATMs and Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank's Global Access ATM network, which consists of 160,000 ATMs in 70 countries.

"Filipinos are among California's most frequent remitters of money back to their home country," said Sea Houston, executive vice president at Wells Fargo. "This link enables us to Offer Filipino Americans the convenience and speed of ATM-to-ATM remittance."

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