A senior executive of BankAmerica Corp. used a slogan reminiscent of the 1992 presidential campaign to stress the importance of having a strong technological backbone.

"It's the infrastructure," said James D. Dixon, BankAmerica's group executive of technology and operations, in a paraphrase of then-candidate Bill Clinton's emphasis on the economy.

He also likened his infrastructure initiative to an earlier President's legacy: the interstate highway system that dates from the 1950s.

Proper infrastructure will enable a complete integration of the former Bank of America and NationsBank systems in two years, Mr. Dixon said last week at the American Banker OnLine '98 conference.

That would be five years faster than it took NationsBank-until then NCNB Corp.-to merge the systems of C&S/Sovran Corp. after those companies paired off in 1991.

The new merger partners will benefit from NationsBank's work on the retail banking infrastructure it called Model Banking. With that platform in place, the new BankAmerica will be able to "spend a lot of time on applications" without worrying about infrastructure, said Mr. Dixon, who was previously head of NationsBanc Services Co.

Building new applications and getting them out to users are important keys to wringing the full value out of technology investments, Mr. Dixon said. The former NationsBank's annual discretionary spending on technology totaled $550 million, he said.

"That's a lot of money. Those investments are worth very little if they are not adopted at the workstation level," he said.

"You want to get as many applications as possible to touch multiple distribution points. We spend a lot of time thinking about what will make maximum use of what we create."

Conversion of the Bank of America retail systems to the Model Banking platform will begin in Texas and New Mexico, the only markets in which the two banks overlapped. Those states, as well as Arizona, Washington, and Alaska, are to be converted by next Labor Day, Mr. Dixon said.

During 1999 and into 2000, the company will integrate Bank of America's retail systems in California, while simultaneously working on the wholesale side of the bank. Most wholesale systems will also be based on NationsBank technology.

At Labor Day 1999, the company will cut off further development of features and functionality until the merger is finished. "In some ways, we're betting that the world will remain the same by the time the merger is complete. That's not reality, and we recognize that, but we have to do it this way," Mr. Dixon said.

The new bank "will listen to customers," he said. "As we have new demands, it's just a matter of writing new applications."

Mr. Dixon said NationsBank had upgraded its system every quarter.

Of the merger, he said, "This is going to be an interesting journey. Although both companies have done this over the years, the size and volumes are truly intriguing to all of us."

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