A Fully Automated Branch Makes Debut in Poland

A fully computerized bank branch has opened in Poland, marking that country's first effort toward competing in the international banking market.

Bank Slaski, one of nine financial institutions formed when the democracy movement broke up Poland's central bank, last week unveiled the first of 42 branches it has slated to be equipped with branch automation systems, automated teller machines, and other computerized banking services.

Hurdles Abound

Such automation, considered standard fare at most U.S. banks, has been difficult to implement in many Eastern European countries because of poor telecommunications services and other technical hurdles.

But with the coming of private investment to Poland, many businesses - including banks - have begun tackling those problems in an effort to improve their efficiency and attract prospective stockholders.

Foreign Investors Sought

In particular, bank officials have said they are interested in attracting foreign investors.

"Our branch network will be fully integrated by the end of 1992 in an ambitious program making Bank Slaski competitive in international terms and providing us with a base for developing services to our customers," said Marian Rajczyk, president of Bank Slaski, which is based in Czestochowa.

The majority of the equipment and services purchased by Bank Slaski will be furnished by International Business Machines Corp. Over the next year and a half, each of the bank's branches will install an AS/400 midrange computer, an ATM from InterBold, and IBM personal computers for teller and platform personnel.

Although this equipment upgrade promises to greatly increase the range of services Bank Slaski can offer its customers, IBM officials said the bank is unlikely to reach the level of automation that Western banks are used to for some time.

|A First Step'

"The environment in which this is happening welcomes the change, but does not have all the pieces in place to accommodate it right now," said Geoff Harrison, a spokesman for IBM Roece, a distributor based in Vienna. "This is a first step toward Western-style banking."

One of the most significant problems facing Bank Slaski is Poland's relatively poor telephone system. Unreliable communication lines make it hard for computers to exchange data with predictable speed.

As a result, most of the bank branches act largely as independent entities, updating their own systems and sending data in batches to a main office at irregular intervals.

In many ways the bank is ahead of itself technologically. For example, it is a member of the Visa authorization network, but there is no clearing service for that credit card in Poland as yet. Also, each branch will soon have an ATM, but the poor telecommunications lines will not allow any networking between the machines.

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