Skott/Edwards Consultants, a New York-based executive search firm, is making its own little financial services revolution.

Second-tier in terms of size-it has about 10 recruiters-and with historical strengths in both information technology and biotechnology, Skott/Edwards has recently raised its internal talent level in the banking and financial services area.

In the process, it essentially combined its information technology and financial services practices.

Information systems, banking, and other financial management issues have become so intertwined that a "fusion," as the principals call it, made logical sense.

The logic, appropriately for a people-oriented business, has a lot to do with the people involved-financial practice head Paul C. Kreuch Jr., senior vice president, and his information technology counterpart, John V. Jazylo.

In the three to four months they have both been on the Skott/Edwards staff, "we found we were talking to each other a lot," Mr. Kreuch said.

"I started carrying John's bio with me on calls, and when the topic of I.T. came up, people thought it was unique that people on one side of the house would be signing clients for the other. Now I will trigger some calls, John others."

They said that a firm like Skott/Edwards-founded by Skott Burkland in 1974-has to be nimble and innovative to set itself apart from the pack, and that the financial/technology merger fills that bill.

Mr. Burkland has long emphasized the team approach to consulting, Mr. Jazylo said. "Speaking from the I.T. side, we want to take that kind of approach to financial services."

Mr. Kreuch, 59, has the kind of commercial banking pedigree-and a gradual awakening to the wonders of technology-that many senior executives can relate to. His 35-year career brought him from Pittsburgh National Bank to Connecticut National Bank to Wachovia Bank and Trust Co. to Natwest Bancorp. He is a former president of National Westminster Bank USA and was executive vice president of Natwest Bank when it was acquired by Fleet Financial Group; the deal afforded him a generous retirement package and a chance at a different type of career.

Mr. Kreuch said he has reestablished contact with many of the New York- area middle-market companies he came to know at Natwest that "may not be on the big (search) firms' radar screens.

"All those companies, besides having general management needs, have technology needs," he said. "John and I can do business together."

Mr. Jazylo, 47, has retail banking roots dating back to Greater New York Savings Bank in the 1970s and Electronic Banking Inc., a research and consulting firm, in the early 1980s. He then shifted gears, working in key technology, strategy, and business development positions at American Express Co. and Nynex Corp.

"People label me an I.T. guy, but I started in financial services," Mr. Jazylo said.

"Financial institutions, in a broad sense, are not making the best use of technology," he said in a recent interview. "In the simplest terms, I.T. should enable a company to prepare for growth"-a vision that can be clouded by short-term cost control, maintenance, and reengineering pressures.

"If you are not in the growth mode and cannot navigate the business you are in with technology, then you are in trouble," Mr. Jazylo said.

"Take the year-2000 problem," the software coding challenge that banks and other businesses must overcome before the calendar changes at the end of 1999. "Chances are you are two years behind where you should be," which distracts attention from more strategic needs.

That may sound preachy, but it also illustrates these headhunters' hands-on knowledge and ability to relate to clients' experiences.

"The only way to differentiate yourself in this business is in the client work," Mr. Kreuch said, "and that's where we focus all our energies."

As is customary in the field, Skott/Edwards makes only selective disclosures about its assignments. Information technology clients include Adidas America Inc., AlliedSignal Inc., Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., and Pepsico Inc.

Among recent searches for financial institutions: vice president of network services for the U.S. subsidiary of a Far East-based organization; first vice president of application development and project management for the U.S. subsidiary of a German company; vice president and deputy chief information officer for a British institution's U.S. capital markets subsidiary.

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