In one of the banking industry's more startling philosophical turnabouts, Banc One Corp. has bid goodbye to the "uncommon partnership" that prevailed for a quarter-century.

Chairman and chief executive John B. McCoy began making it clear internally last winter that the Columbus, Ohio-based company was planning to abandon its famous decentralized structure.

But the move to a more coordinated "national partnership" was already evident in Banc One's plan to operate its trust division as a national line of business.

The decision was actually made in the spring of 1994, said John Alexander, president of the operations and technology group of Banc One Investment Management and Trust.

As part of the reorganization, Charles W. Sulerzyski was named chairman and chief executive of the trust group last summer.

"The primary focus of our efforts in 1994 and 1995 has been on the standardization of trust systems and the consolidation of certain operating functions, principally to gain economies of scale," said Mr. Alexander.

On the corporate trust side, $88.9 billion-asset Banc One had been operating four different accounting systems in seven sites. Between May 1994 and this April, the bank moved all corporate trust accounting functions to Columbus where they are run on single system from National Computer Systems Inc., Minneapolis - the only one of the four with the capacity to handle back-office corporate trust functions for all of Banc One's affiliates, said Mr. Alexander.

A similar consolidation is in progress for personal trust and employee benefit trust. Banc One started with nine different trust accounting systems in 15 locations. About half of the work has been centralized in Ohio on a system from SEI Corp., Wayne, Pa.

But thus far, the rest of the personal trust operations remain dispersed.

"We have a team of people who are working now to standardize what we have left out in the state trust units," said Mr. Alexander.

Some functions, he said, are likely to be moved to three or four regional sites. Still others tasks may continue to be performed at the 15 existing centers - but processes would be standardized throughout.

The system conversions and consolidations will enable Banc One to reduce its operations staff by 100 people, said Mr. Alexander. Taken together, the changes in corporate, personal, and employee benefit trust are expected to carve out $7 million in noninterest expense by the end of 1995.

This effort, along with later and more far-reaching plans to trim expenses and improve efficiency bankwide, has been warmly received by analysts.

"Banc One is back," said Joseph C. Duwan, a Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. senior vice president, after attending an analysts' meeting with Banc One officials in Columbus.

Mr. Duwan said the bank was pressured to look at ways to improve operations dramatically after its liability-sensitive balance sheet was hit hard by rising interest rates. To reduce the exposure, Banc One took a $169 million charge in the fourth quarter of last year, ending a 25-year record of profit growth.

The bank is also moving to single-state charters, a major departure from the confederation of affiliated banks. At the beginning of last year, Banc One operated 88 banks; by yearend the number was 69.

"McCoy's point is that five years down the road, we are going to look back and say, 'This is probably the best thing that ever happened to us,"' said Mr. Duwan. "It was a convincing presentation."

The market also reacted favorably. In the days following the analysts meeting, Banc One's stock was up about $1.50 a share.

"My sense is they get it," said Tom Brown, an analyst with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in New York. "Now the question is really going to be execution. And that's going to be for them more difficult than other companies because of their successful culture."

Mr. Alexander concedes that the process of creating a national trust business was not always easy. "We were still very much operating under the uncommon partnership that had prevailed for 25-plus years here," he said. "Generally speaking, it was introducing a significant amount of change. And change is always difficult."

The logic of centralizing operations to reduce costs, he said, was not always as "compelling as one might hope it will be" to employees.

"The immediate response is, there is no way you can serve my customers as well from Columbus as they are served from Denver or Salt Lake City," he said. To overcome that worry, "you have to demonstrate that we can meet or exceed the levels of service quality that were being delivered previously."

Mr. Alexander said the job of reshaping the culture became easier in February, after Mr. McCoy outlined the new corporate direction.

And while Banc One has so far focused on consolidating trust operations, Mr. Alexander said some early groundwork has been done to reengineer processes.

For example, Banc One began last fall to examine the steps involved in opening a personal trust account. Officials found that it was best to view the process in a broader context, what the bank now calls a "customer assimilation process."

"Assimilating a new customer is the sales person meeting with the customer, the sales person closing a sale with that customer, an adminstrator meeting him, the gathering of information to create a new account, the movement of assets, the determination of what the fees will be, the determination of tax consequences - a variety of pieces," said Mr. Alexander.

Banc One initially interviewed 100 trust employees around the country to document how that work is done today. From the initial group, 20 employees - from administration, sales, and operations - were brought together to hash out a better way to handle the account-opening task.

"They spent about two months in various meetings designing it, or redesigning it," said Mr. Alexander. "And then we ended up with a group of about 10 people out of that 20 who were really the final design team."

The design was completed by the end of March and is now being implemented throughout the organization.

But Mr. Alexander said that other work remains to be done, particularly in redesigning the personal trust tasks that continue to be handled in multiple states.

Indeed, he said the overall trust area consolidation doesn't really qualify as a reengineering, which he defines as "radical work-process redesign."

'The textbook would say, sit down, define what the desired outcomes are, and, from that, define the desired set of work processes," said Mr. Alexander. "And then implement those work processes and the technology associated with it.

"We're always looking for new opportunities. But frankly, we are pretty focused on the conversion/consolidation process that is under way," he added. "I really look to 1996, when we can kind of redirect our focus to process design, process redesign, and really putting in place a focus on continually improving our work processes.

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