In 1991, BankAmerica spent more than $200 million putting Coin, a personal computer-based system designed by its own experts, in 1,000 branches in its home state of California.

After spending over $200 million less than three years ago to place personal computers in its California branches, BankAmerica Corp. has chosen another route to revamp its retail locations in four other states.

B of A has contracted with AT&T Global Information Solutions -- formerly NCR Corp. -- to install new branch computers that use the Unix operating system in its 145 offices in Arizona.

The deal follows a just-completed project to install the same AT&T equipment in B of A's 31-branch affiliate in Hawaii, and AT&T officials said they are in the final stages of negotiations with the bank of roll out the system in Texas and Neveda as well. B of A has 316 branches in those two states.

Antique Patchwork

The new branch technology replaces a mixed bag of aging teller and platform systems BofA inherited after acquiring banks and thirfts outside California over the past four years, a B of A spokesman said.

BankAmerica is the second big bank to recently commit to installing branch technology based on the Unix operating system, software that manages a computer's basic functions. Archrival Wells Fargo & Co. is also deploying branch systems based on Unix.

Developed for academic and scientific applications, Unix has gained ground in corporate America in recent years, mainly because the operating system runs on a number of different types of hardware and is easily networked to mainframe computers.

Client-Server Use

Unix-based systems are also being touted as a lower-cost alternative to PC networks when used for so-called client-server computing, where groups of desktop machines share data and processing tasks.

AT&T officials declined to put a value on its deal with B of A, but industry sources estimated that it could exceed $50 million if the Texas and Nevada branchers are included.

B of A's 1,000 California branches currently use PC-based technology the bank designed itself, called the the Customer Online Information Network, or Coin.

The system, developed in the mid-1980s using then-nascent PC networking technology, involving deploying over 20,000 International Business Machines Corp. microcomputers. The PCs run IBM's OS/2 operating system.

When B of A acquired Security Pacific Corp. in 1992, the bank decided to install Coin into the acquired branches as well.

State of the Art in '91

At the time of its introduction in 1991, Coin was considered by many technology analysts to be state of the art.

But by moving to Unix for its branches in Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, and Texas, B of A has probably decided that a different approach is needed to remain competitive, observers said.

"We're not unhappy with Coin," said Bob Wynne, a B of A spokesman. "This [AT&T system] could eventually replace it, but that would be years from now," he added.

The new branch automation scheme consists of AT&T System 3300 computer servers installed in each branch. These computers control data traffic between branch worksations and the bank's central data processing site in Concord, Calif.

The AT&T computers will run branch automation software from Dayton, Ohio-based Culverin Corp.

Instead of using PCs as in the Coin design, tellers will use new AT&T Unix terminals developed especially for banking. Additionally, platform workers will use devices known as X-terminals that have the ability to display graphics like PCs, but are generally less expensive.

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