The Bankers Roundtable is renewing a tradition of its predecessor, the Association of Reserve City Bankers, by commissioning a major study of where payment systems are headed.

As with previous efforts in 1982 and 1988, the group wants to assess banks' access to and control over various networks - including those operated by the Federal Reserve System and the bank credit card associations - and related issues such as financial risks and nonbank access.

The study also coincides with heightened awareness of the "information highway." Amid the recent announcements of mergers and joint ventures among media, computer, and communications companies, few senior-level bankers have had time to determine how their own technology strategies might be affected.

The Bankers Roundtable wants to identify the key issues and elevate the discussion to involve its influential members, who tend to be chief executives and people reporting to them.

|Policy Issues Get Overlooked'

"These issues are so complex that they get left to the people who run the computers, so the big policy issues get overlooked," said Anthony Cluff, the group's executive director.

"We hope this [study] will be for policymakers, regulators, and lawmakers, to help us all discuss the issues," he said.

The Roundtable, which represents top executives from the 125 largest banks, is paying Furash & Co. about $100,000 to conduct the study and deliver a report at the group's annual meeting next March.

The Washington-based consulting firm won the commission by promising to deliver "a document that can be acted upon by policymakers," Mr. Cluff said.

Furash plans to talk to representatives from more than 100 organizations, including not only bankers but "all the stakeholders" in payment systems, said Stephen P. White, a managing director at the firm.

Those constituencies include consumers and consumer advocates, major corporations, credit card companies, technology firms, telecommunications and cable television providers, and government officials.

"We didn't want to just focus on what bankers say about this," said Mr. White. "We wanted to find out what this new environment will mean to banks, how they can position themselves to deal with it."

According to Mr. White, the study will use focus-group interviewing techniques to address such questions as: What do the different parties to the payment systems require? Who will provide these services? And how will risk, security, and float issues be addressed.

Alternative-Delivery Questions

At a time when nonbanks are encroaching in many businesses historically dominated by banks, the study will analyze the possibility of nonbanks becoming members of the Federal Reserve System. And there are questions to be raised about alternatives to the Fed for wire transfers, securities transactions, and automated clearing house payments.

For example, the Fed is facing its most serious competition in years from a group of banks and regional automated clearing houses that want to exchange payments that completely bypass the central bank.

The Roundtable, based in Washington, was formed from a merger last June of Reserve City and the Association of Holding Companies.

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