EAGERLY FOLLOWING in the footsteps of their superregional and money center brethren, community banks across the country are placing thousands of personal computers in the hands of branch workers.

Dumb terminals are continuing to take the back seat to the use of PCs in branches, as bankers realize the full scope of the microcomputer's power and its usefulness in aiding sales efforts.helping sell more effectively to customers.

The American Banker/Tower Group 1994 Information Technology in Community Banking Survey found that the institutions have increased their commitment to purchasing PCs over terminals because of the functionality the machines offer.

The survey found that 82% have committed to purchasing personal computers for branch operations this year compared with 78% last year. Among the other findings:

Only 11% of respondents said they have committed to purchasing dumb terminals for branch operations - compared with 22% last year.

And 7% said they have committed to purchasing both PCs and dumb terminals for branch operations.

Allen G. Tarbox Jr., director of information services at the Bank of New Hampshire Corp., said his company has been using a PCbased branch automation system for a little over a year and has found success with it.

"We have seen an increase in productivity for tellers and customer service representatives since we installed the system," Mr. Tarbox said."The system allows the staff to produce more information and cross-sell to customers while also allowing them to add a personal touch to the operation."

Mr. Tarbox said branch automation enables the Manchester-based community bank to serve customers faster, because information needs to entered just once and is easily accessible at all offices.

"Branch automation is something that is necessary in order for us to compete for market share," he said."Without the proper system in place we would be way behind the competition ."

The $900 million-asset bank is currently looking at other ways to use technology in its operations - with the intent of maximizing efficiency while reducing overall costs.

"Our ability to use branch automation systems successfully has made us look at other areas where we think technology will be beneficial to us," Mr. Tarbox said."Maximizing the use of technology will allow us to be more efficient, work with customers more diligently, and increase the bottom line."

Community bankers are finding that by installing the right technology they can free staff from mundane branch tasks, allowing them to concentrate on working to increase sales and expand the customer base.

"We are looking at eliminating paper and keystrokes and by installing technology so our sales staff can concentrate on sales instead of handling the paperwork," said Wayne R. Weidner, president and chief executive officer of National Penn Bank in Boyertown, Pa."The technology also ensures all of the requirements [with federal regulations] are met as well as enhancing the quality of the operation."

Mr. Weidner said one of the benefits of using"the right" technology is that it allows the bank to have a complete picture of the client/bank relationship.

"Branch automation updates the customer information file automatically," he said."We want to be state of the art, we want the information there so that the customer service people have it when they need it. That is what will allow us to continue to be successful."

Of the banks surveyed, 71% said that they have customer information available through a branch automation system while 2% said they were in progress of installing the function a customer information file into the operation. Another 18% said it would a high future technological priority.

Mr. Weidner said National Penn believes the key to successful use of technology is buying properly.

"We don't try to be in the front of the industry," he said."We like to lag behind slightly, which allows those who aggressively pursue technology to do the testing so that by the time we make the purchase the bugs have been worked out and the system meets the need we have."

National Penn Bank has been slow to move toward installing a branch automation system but sees it as the next step on the path to implementing technology throughout an expanding institution.

"We now see that the key to our operation will be to bring the branches onto the network," said Mr. Weidner."By linking the platform to the mainframe we will increase the efficiency of the operation."

Mr. Weidner said the use of PC technology has enhanced his operation and sees it as continuing to do so for years to come.

"Technology has allowed us to put all of our offices in touch with each other while continuing to provide us with the ability to offer the best service at a professional level as we grow," he said.

Amboy National Bank in Old Bridge, N.J., is embarking on plan to install a branch automation system which it sees as a clear-cut way to increase efficiency and market share.

"We plan to have 50% of our 13 branches installed with a branch automation system by the end of the year," said vice president Robert Babin."The system will include platform and teller functions that will run on personal computers tied to the mainframe.

"We think that by adding this technology our operation will become more efficient and also to better serve our customers' needs."

The $900 million-asset bank is also planning to install a sophisticated data network with the intent of providing more functionality to branch personnel and bank executives.

Mr. Babin said that by linking its branches to the mainframe and each other, Amboy hopes to build on existing customer relationships and allow various departments to work together to increase market share by expanding the bank's geographic reach.

"We want to be able to offer our staff in the branches complete packages of information," he said. "By having the right systems in place, we can get them the information quickly and efficiently so that they will be able work with the customers to meet their needs and have the effective tools for cross-selling."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.