Whitney National Bank, which has served commercial institutions in the deep South for 114 years, began serving its first retail customers only six years ago. Now it's counting on a new client/server branch automation system to make it a retail leader. The $4 billion-asset bank, which has 100 branches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, is implementing EDS Corp.'s Sellstation software at teller and platform workstations throughout its network, a process that should be completed by October. Whitney is not alone in its branch automation overhaul. Regions Financial in Alabama, Centura Banks in North Carolina and Argentina's Banco Rio are among dozens of other financial institutions using Sellstation. The software can streamline multiple account openings and help a bank cross-sell products and services. Bank employees can use their PCs to run "what-if" calculations on IRA projections, CD maturities, interest rates on deposits, etc. And within seconds, customers can see how various products can fulfill their particular needs. The colorful, easy-to-understand screens increase productivity by reducing employee training time. At Whitney, Sellstation is upping sales by turning an operations- based culture into a sales-oriented one. If a customer wishes to deposit more than $10,000, for example, the system will prompt the teller to ask whether the customer would like to use the money to purchase other products. If the customer is new, the system will lead the teller through information-gathering steps to identify what products and services will meet the customer's financial goals. Installing the system is a major undertaking not without its "hiccups." EDS marketing manager Hilary Trout says the biggest challenge at Whitney was "taking manual processes and trying to automate them." Whitney National evp Rodney Chard says that telecommunications software produced system shutdowns, and that there was a "roving teller" problem. "If a teller closed his workstation for lunch and came back to a different terminal, sometimes his totals didn't go with him," he says. But, on the whole, implementing the system has gone very well, he says. "We have pretty high standards in terms of what we will accept." -peterson tfn.com

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