BankAmerica Duo Honored For PC-Based Automation

Two Bank of America executives have been honored by an association of computer professionals for creating a unique microcomputer-based branch automation system.

Larry McNabb and Bruce Fadem were recognized by the Chicago-based Society for Information Management for their role in the development of Bank of America's $250 million branch automation system, known as the Customer On-line Information system, or COIN.

Mr. McNabb is executive vice president at Bank of America and head of the retail banking division. Mr. Fadem is a senior vice president in charge of retail automation services.

The Partners in Leadership Award award is given yearly to senior executives who have implemented novel technology solutions to business problems.

More than 20,000 PCs

After more than five years of development, the COIN project is nearly complete, with more than 20,000 personal computers from International Business Machines Corp. installed at some 1,300 California locations.

The system is a leading example of a trend favoring personal computers over so-called dumb terminals in branches. PCs can do various tasks independently of a central computer or controller; dumb computers rely entirely on the central systems for their processing power.

The system has resulted in productivity gains averaging about 20%, bank officials said.

"We were going through some particularly tough times in the mid-1980s that saw us selling off assets and doing a lot of belt tightening" said Gregory Berardi, a spokesman for the holding company, $113 billion-asset BankAmerica Corp. "But senior management was still able to push this project through."

Mr. McNabb and Mr. Fadem oversee the bank's retail computer operations, which involve about 18,000 employees and 21 million customer accounts.

Controversial Concept

Bank of America systems departments developed COIN to improve productivity at branches by bringing data on a customer's entire relationship with the bank to any teller or customer service representative.

Though it is generally agreed that platform officers need intelligent terminals, some experts say Bank of America's strategy of putting PCs at teller stations is frivolous. Despite their prices are falling, PCs are still more expensive than dumb terminals, and tellers typically process only five to 10 types of transactions.

But Mr. Fadem defended the bank's decision.

"On a terminal-by-terminal basis, sure, the dumb terminals are cheaper than PCs," he said. "But if you figure in the costs across the entire system, the differences are much less evident."

When PCs are used to gain access to customer account information, routine transactions such as opening new accounts and cashing checks can be accomplished much more quickly, Mr. Fadem said.

Bank officials declined to estimate how much the system will save in costs or how much it will improve sales.

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