Recognizing the importance of technology at his tiny bank -- and his own ignorance of the topic - earlier this year David Nosbisch hired a full-time computer guru. "Banking tomorrow is going to be computer-based, and if I don't understand computers, I need someone who does," said Mr. Nosbisch, president of Durand State Bank, Durand, Ill., which has $34 million in deposits.

As technology becomes more affordable, even the smallest community banks must determine how to make the most of their options.

"I've seen a definite trend among community banks," said Jeffrey Thompson, a consultant with Towers Perrin in Chicago. "I think they're looking for expertise. Most banks are not using all of their system and are not getting the greatest amount of functionality out of it."

Consultant Ed Mulloy agreed. "There is definitely a need for community bankers to get outside resources to assist them in mechanization," said Mr. Mulloy, managing consultant of Advanced Banc Consulting, Appleton, Wis.

"My own opinion is the small bank has either got to do this or die."

Mr. Nosbisch, with a "limited" knowledge of computers, said he previously had to rely on vendors. They often presented their product as the only thing available or said it only would run with other products from the same company.

He finally said to himself, "It's going to be simpler to have someone on staff who I can teach banking to who then can teach computers to everybody."

Now Rick Rutter, operations officer and one of 17 full-time employees, can knowledgeably assess products, be an easily-accessible in-house expert, and perhaps work with small-business clients, Mr. Nosbisch said.

Originally from a nearby town, Mr. Rutter majored in computer science and math in college, after which he joined the Marines, where he updated his computer skills.

He thinks his job is necessary for the small bank. "If you're not well Versed in computer science, you're going to be left behind," Mr. Rutter said.

In his short tenure, "He's saved me $15,000 to $20,000 already," said Mr. Nosbisch.

However, Mr. Mulloy, whose firm sells community bankers computer services, cautions against having a full-time computer employee.

"Unfortunately, he's worked himself out of a job if he does a good one," Mr. Mulloy said of a full-time employee.

But Mr. Rutter isn't worried about running out of things to do. "It's an ever-changing field," Mr. Rutter said. "Keeping up-to-date is a full-time job in itself."

John Davis, managing director of GRA, Thompson, White & Co., Denver, agrees that "somebody really needs to be in charge of technology strategy for the bank." However, "The problem is that very few community banks can afford the expertise of someone who is that knowledgeable and keeps up with a technological environment that is changing."

Therefore, many smaller banks will employ someone who can play other roles as well. At Durand State, Mr. Rutter already has learned a thing or two about banking, Mr. Nosbisch said. "He also fills in as a teller."

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