Much of the imaging world is blissfully unaware of the arcane art of check imaging. The basics are the same: paper documents are scanned by cameras that convert them into images and the images are usually stored in a TIFF format (IBM does promulgate its own proprietary IOCA format when it can). When compression is used, it is most commonly the same JPEG familiar to the rest of the imaging industry (IBM has again gone its own way by devising its IBAC compression scheme).
Check imaging is different because it requires special handling mechanisms to feed checks, deposit slips and move other banking items through the system, as well as to balance the numbers read from those items. Another major difference is that in check processing, the imaging and MlCR-encoding technologies must together create a product greater than the sum of its parts.
It won't take long for a document imaging specialist to understand the equipment. We define the rudiments below. Check imaging requires a much faster throughput than the standard document imaging system. Understanding this difference is important for anyone who wants to bridge the two types of imaging. There is a reason why the big players in the bank imaging market are different than those in other parts of the imaging business," says Brian Schlegel, vice president of sales and marketing for Hyland Software, Rocky River, OH. Key players such as FileNet, Watermark, PC Docs and others have successfully focused on helping streamline paper-intensive applications.
But that has never been the most compelling need in banking, reports Schlegel. "Banks live in a world that is very data and report-oriented," he says. "They are saddled with all sorts of regulatory requirements asking them to process checks the same day they receive them and to generate reports on all transactions within 24 hours. That's why the initial focus has been on installing capture equipment that can process checks quickly, data systems to process that captured information and COLD storage to capture and manage all those daily reports." With time-sensitive imaging applications up and-running, IT specialists at banks are looking to expand their imaging capabilities.
One way to simplify your clients' handling of checks is to make it possible for them to print their own. It's simple enough to do. If you are an imaging reseller whose business entails helping clients handle checks, bills or remittances, check printing is a technology you should add to your bag of tricks.
"One misunderstanding about the process of printing checks is that this entails buying check stock with company logo, address and bank info preprinted," Les Cseh, owner of Niagara, NY based Sensible Solutions, a MICR consulting firm. "Nothing could be further from the truth." Commonly available software and hardware allows checks to be printed entirely at the business site complete with logo, signatures, and the MICR encoding. "None of this technology is especially new, but it has only recently begun to attract the attention it deserves," adds Cseh.
With the proper software, and perhaps a custom-made printer ROM to make the check print ing system more secure, your clients can even let their laser printer sign the checks for them. If this concept makes them nervous, remind them that the software will allow them to specify that the auto matic signatures should only appear for checks less than an amount they determine.
The customized ROM used to add signatures can also serve double duty as a security cartridge if customers specify that all check printing must be done by a printer with the proper ROM installed. Those who are even more security-conscious can purchase specialized high-end printers that provide additional security via physical keys or plug in modules.
Cseh warns that quality assurance is not a step to be skipped in check printing. "Some MICR software vendors actually ignore bank standards and tell their users that they can use regular toner," he says. "Chances are that your clients can get away with this because standard toner often has just enough magnetic characteristics to be readable. But it has not been formulated to be accurately read on the wide variety of reader/sorters out there, nor to withstand up to 30 passes through reader/sorters."
To illustrate the need for strict quality-assurance, Cseh recalls a case when it was ignored. "My favorite story (again, this is rare) was told to me when I visited Philadelphia National Bank. A customer of the bank's had just had every single check in their pension check run rejected - all 140,000 of them - due to an error in how the MICR was set up. The bank charged the customer $1 per check ($140,000) because they had to read all 140,000 checks manually.