Ronald Robbins, president of Liberty Financial Bank Group, jokes that he doesn't even know how to turn on a computer.

But that didn't stop him from backing a $250,000 project to speed up the way Liberty processes mutual fund orders.

Technology "is our future," Mr. Robbins said. "We want to be able to offer services better than anyone else."

Liberty sees its recent investment as a way of remaining on the cutting edge in an increasingly competitive market. Scores of companies are jockeying to deliver investment products through banks.

Liberty, through an arrangement with ADP, Jersey City, N.J., is now able to clear mutual fund trades in one day.

Sales representatives in branches call in trades to a processing center at Liberty's Boston headquarters. The center uses computers to forward the orders to ADP for clearing through National Securities Clearing Corp., New York.

Until the new systems were installed, it routinely took several days for Liberty to settle transactions. Sales representatives sent orders by Federal Express ot Liberty's service department, which batched and mailed the paperwork to individual and companies.

Liberty expects the automated system to cut several hundred thousand dollars from the company's Federal Express bill.

The savings will offset the $250,000 that Liberty spent on personal computers and software to run the program, said Daniel Wright, vice president in charge of Liberty's information systems.

Mr. Wright declined to disclose how much Liberty is paying ADP for each transaction.

But he did say the arrangement with ADP is only the beginning of plans for greater automation.

Employing Laptops

Liberty will soon begin issuing laptop computers to sales representatives who offer investment products in 80 client banks.

The laptops work up financial plans for college, retirement, and other long-term objectives.

If the initial rollout goes well, Liberty expects to outfit all sales representatives with portable computers. Right now, the company has 260 salespeople covering 1,200 branches.

Staying Ahead

Mr. Wright sees even broader applications for the laptops, which representatives eventually using them to access ADP directly, instead of calling orders in to Boston.

He also offers anecdotal evidence that Liberty should go this route to remain a step ahead of competitors.

He said ADP's salespeople, after their initial presentation in Liberty's offices earlier this year, packed up their equipment and addressed it for its next destination.

That site happened to be at GNA Corp., a large Seattle-based competitor of Liberty's.

"You don't know how tempted we were to reroute the packages to Australia or New Zealand," Mr. Wright said.

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