How you can travel out West -- and take your bank with you

It's not exactly hot banking news, but it takes some getting used to.

Say your savings or checking account is in San Francisco, and you are planning a seaside vacation up the coast to Lincoln City, Ore. Do you take a wad of cash? Traveler's checks? Money orders? Another type of credit card?

None of the above, if you bank in the West with First Interstate Bank (FIB). You can get up to $200 cash each day, seven days a week, immediately in Lincoln City. FIB has a 24-hour teller there, and at several hundred other locations, for Western vacationers in 11 states.

Helping customers get used to new and unusual banking services is FIB's strong point. Originally it ran a contest to see who could use the new automatic tellers the most within a month. Winners got to take as much cash out of an automatic-teller machine as they could within a specified period of time.

In addition to being the first to offer face-to-face banking anywhere in the West, FIB pioneered the West's first pay-your-bills-by-phone idea. Now, it is working on a major pilot experiment in which customers are encouraged to do their banking at home.

There are 250 FIB customers in one section of southern California who have been loaned (at no charge) computer terminals that are hooked up to a home TV set. For banking use, these also have coupling devices that connect each unit by phone line with a central FIB computer.

Protected by security codes, each FIB home user can type instructions to the bank on his terminal. Funds can be transferred between accounts, and customers' bills can be paid by the bank to any of over 5,000 organizations, either by electronic transfer or by check.

Banking at home is possible any time, day or night, and the current status of the main account can be recalled to the screen for rechecking on a daily basis. The present cost of the FIB experiment, about $200 a terminal unit, is being absorbed by FIB. Total cost is expected to reach $1 million.

Purchase of computer hookups by customers just for home banking appears unlikely at present because of the high cost, notwithstanding the convenience of armchair push-button banking. The future of electronic home banking, industry observers say, will depend on the introduction of moderate user fees - with an assist from home-cable service installed for nonbanking purposes.

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