THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM calls for each banker to be assigned a personal computer, but Phoenix's Republic National Bank has found that for its teller automation system at least, it's better to share.

Republic, a single-branch community bank with $34 million of assets, has found it can have a high-fimction teller system without the costly expense of installing a networked PC for every branch worker.

In early 1993, the bank found that its existing teller platform was becoming outdated and needed to be replaced -- fast.

"Our existing system was no longer being produced, parts were rare, and service was very expensive," said Kyle Curtis, vice president and cashier. "The old system was not giving us the opportunity we needed to grow or use new technology to make the operation more efficient."

The solution the bank found was a branch automation system that runs on a single PC linked to dumb terminals, in a so-called "multi-user" environment. It permits a number of tellers to process transactions and obtain account information simultaneously. Last year, the bank installed a PC-based, multi-user operating system from Concurrent Controls Inc., teller terminal hardware from Southwest Financial Systems Inc., and application software from Easy Systems Inc.

"We looked at several other systems and found that this offered us the most for the money and gave us room to grow:' he said. "Having a personal computer-based [software] platform was very important for us and [the multi-user design] gave us exactly what we were looking for at the right price." However, this sentiment would not be echoed by most banks, according to Richard Crone, senior manager for financial services at KPMG Peat Marwick in Los Angeles.

"In today's world it does not make sense to use unintelligent workstations," he said. "The big winners in the industry today are those institutions which are able to harness the processing power of the personal computer and run with it.

"Using a system to emulate DOS-based personal computers is the old way of thinking," he continued. "The real oppommity is the creation of seamless interfaces between core operations and the teller platforms, adding value by putting transaction data at the front line." Mr. Curtis does not see it that way.

"By installing the system and teller terminals, we were able to gain direct access to the programs residing on the branch processor with less expense," he said. "It gives us the diversity and flexibility [by paying] a single fee, as opposed to a long-term maintenance and hardware contracf' for running an all-PC network.

Republic spent approximately $23,000 to install the five teller terminals and the software and be fully operational.

Mr. Curtis said it would have cost the bank approximately $4,000 per teller station plus a yearly maintenance fee of $,2000 to set up and maintain a local area network. "We found that by going with a terminal emulation system, we will save money in the long rim and have the foundation to build on as we grow," he said.

One of the features the system offers -- which the bank has found useful -- is its ability to move data back and forth to its host computer. Republic has installed a link between the branch processor and its outsourcer -- Fiserv Inc.'s data center in Oklahoma City.

Teller Vision lets the terminals emulate the functions of a personal computer, including all the operating functions tellers need to complete transaction.

"Each of our teller terminals are connected to the branch personal computer and are able to act as if they were using a stand-alone machine," said Mr. Curtis. "The dumb terminals have the look and feel of personal computers without the hard drive or central processing unit."

The system allows the bank to load personal computer software onto the branch processor, where it can be accessed from various terminals.

"The system is similar to having alocal area network but the cost is greatly reduced," said Mr. Curtis. "The system allows the tellers to use their machines to access information as if it was attached to a local area network.

"We also are able to operate in a supervisory mode to see what our tellers are doing and work with the tellers to provide better service," he continued.

Republic has also been able to set up a link between its remote loan office and the branch to increase the efficiency of its operation. "We knew we had to bring on new technology in order to continue to compete," said Mr. Curtis. "This is an economical solution which offers the flexibility of personal computer technology."

The terminals have the ability to take on software upgrades with ease.

"If a new release of software comes out and we want to install it, all we have to do is pop it in," Mr. Curtis said. "The old system provided us no flexibility at all and really kept us in the dark when it came time to install new software." One area the bank has been able to update as a result of the installation is its cashier check operation.

Now tellers are able to input the customer name and dollar amount and print out the check at the terminal station through an existing transaction printer.

Previously, the tellers needed to leave their stations and complete the transaction manually. The system also provides the bank with a computer log at the end of the day that lists official cashier check activity.

"We have been able to add a new check printing system to all of our tellers by simply adding it into the personal computer branch processor," said Mr. Curtis. "The tellers are able to process cashier checks with ease through the system, eliminating the many manual steps that were once required."

The bank has also been able to use the system for file transfers in its Small Business Administration loans.

"Using TellerVision allows us to upload our loan information once a transaction is completed to our data processing operation," said Mr. Curtis. "The input can be entered at the terminal and it can be sent to the host system automatically through a single function.

"It lets us update and continue to use new technology as it is developed without placing boundaries around our operation," he continued. Mr. Curtis said the TellerVision platform is preparing the bank to handle not only intemal growth but also future changes in technology. "I don't plan on investing a whole lot of money into a new system," he said. "As new features come on, I can purchase them and send the programs out through the emulator without investing in costly hardware."

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