WHEN GETTING COPIES of checks and drafts is of the utmost importance, imaging is the answer.

Chicago-based Continental Bank Corp, is now providing its commercial customers with clear crisp images of checks - sent directly from a cumputer to either a fax machine or personal computer in the client's office.

Earlier this year the bank began pioneering the use of CheckFax, an extension of the NCR Corp. 7731 scanner/encoder. The system, developed by Omaha-based Data Management Products. also uses standard personal computer.

Checks that meet predetermined criteria during sorting are set aside to be imaged. Once the image is caputured, it is automatically sent to the customer. The image the customer receives depends on each request.

"If customer wants to see every check that is drawn over $20,000, the system can automatically fax the image to the customer for approval," said Ralph Bennes, operations officer. "What images the customer receives depends on what he requests.

"Customers are able to compare what checks are posting on their accounts to the checks in the register, and if the checks do not match they tell us not to pay," he continued.

The bank currently has about 10 customers - "from a drug company to an insurance firm" - sucbcribing to the service, and the machine processers approximately 150 checks a day, Mr. Bennes said.

Accoriding to Mr. Bennes, the service is especially useful for companies - such as insurance firms - that allows employees to write checks in the field.

"If a company wants to make sure checks that are being written in the field are on the up and up it can have the images faxed to the home office for approval before they are cashed," he said. The system has also proven useful in alerting customers about returned and fradulent checks.

According to Mr. Bennes, customers are now able to receive quick notice of checks that have been returned, facilitating collection of the funds.

"The sooner a customer knows that a check has been returned the higher the likelihood of the funds being collected," he said.

The system also allows the bank to provide customers with up-to-date check clearing information. "We are now able to get information to a client about a bad or fradulent check immediately through the imager," saids Mr. Bennes. "Without the imager it was a tedious manual process."

According to Mr. Bennes, the ability to image a check quickly is important, because federal regulations require the check issuer to decide the same day if it will pay the check or return it. The bank is planning to build the service to handle the maximum amount of checks the imager can handle.

The banker currently sorts approximately four million checks per month - or 200,000 a day. As the checks are sorted, the MICR line is caputured and stored for posting.

"Check imaging provides the type of security that allows corporate customers to control disbursement," said Steve Ledford, senior vice president of Global Concepts Inc., Atlanta. "Certain companies need to see certain items. Imaging consolidates the process in a quick, efficient, and automatic manner."

According to Mr. Bennes, CheckFax takes all of the human handling out of check processing and improves the quality of the image the customer receives.

"The print quality of the image is enhanced because the data is digitized by the program and does not have to go from copy machine to fax machine to fax machine," he said.

"The image is sent direct from PC to fax machine and is in some cases better than the first generation."

According to Mr. Bennes, the system has eliminated the copying and paper filing process entirely.

"We no longer have to have a person searching through the files and hassling with the copy and fax machine when a customer requests a check; the system does it for us," he said.

"We have completely eliminated the manual process of finding and sending a check to a custmer."

The bank decided to go with the Data Management Products' system because itt already used other products from the company. What's more, Data Management Products was willing to develop a product specifically tailored to the bank's needs.

"We were using a Data Management Products automated check return system and when we approached them with what we wanted they were able to accommodate us," said Mr. Bennes.

The new check imaging system took three months to develop and has been up and running since April.

Robert Gustalfson, president of Data Management Products, said CheckFax offers full capture ability, allowing the customer to receive the front, back, or both front and back, of checks or drafts, depending on the need.

"Our system starts with the check being entered and ends with it being sent to the customer's fax machine or PC. There is no operator intervention except forr loading the federal," he said.

According to Mr. Bennes, the bank decided to look into imaging because of the technology's ability to get information to customers quickly and also as a way to position the bank for the future.

"CheckFax was a good way for us to get involved in imaging in an inexpensive manner while satisfying our customer's needs," he said.

"Using the system was the best way for the bank to learn, test, and provide the technology for such a minimal investment."

Implementing CheckFax cost the bank approximately $25,000. Accordingly to Mr. Bennes, the cost for an imaging system that also would have provided image statements would have been more than $1 million.

"The bank is not interested in providing check iamge statements, but rather sees an opportunity for providing individual check images for exception sitautions," said Mr. Bennes.

"Check imaging is giving us the opportunity to learn and use new technology and has given us a way to position ourselves for the future."

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