Lori Hricik is one of a handful of banking executives helping to shape the future of the payment systems, but you'd never know that from talking to her.
"One thing particularly notable about Lori is that she does not try to be the center of attention and tries not to garner a lot of the glory," said Jill Considine, president of the New York Clearing House. "She is willing to share the credit."
Ms. Hricik, 46, is senior vice president in Chase Manhattan Corp.'s treasury solutions and trade unit. Her job involves managing 2,500 employees and the systems behind a banking unit with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.
Ms. Hricik's work features an increasing amount of extracurricular activity with banking trade groups. Her specialty-payment systems-has become an area of great interest to those who say the banking industry's ability to flourish hinges on its continued control of the systems that route payments around the world.
One industry group drawing on Ms. Hricik's expertise is Chipco, a still- forming subsidiary of the New York Clearing House. Chipco would manage the large-dollar payments that flow through the clearing house's Chips funds transfer system. Owned and operated by the largest New York banks, New York Clearing House's Chips processes more than $1.4 trillion in financial transactions daily.
Though Chipco generally is to be led by executive vice presidents and higher, Chase president and ranking Chipco executive Thomas G. Labrecque decided Ms. Hricik's knowledge would come in handy, and others agreed.
"I was probably too low-level, but they all thought I should be the one on it," said Ms. Hricik. "I was very flattered."
Before her involvement in Chipco, Ms. Hricik had been appointed to lead the New York Clearing House Association's funds transfer committee.
This committee helped establish the "Lamfalussy plus-one" standard, which lets transactions flowing over the clearing house's Chips network settle even if the two largest bank participants fail.
In addition, in 1995 she helped produce the clearing house's "green book," which establishes risk-reduction procedures for netting systems. This effort last year spawned the "orange book"-a similar manual created by the Bank for International Settlements.
Ms. Hricik noted that years of work she and others have put into the payment systems are starting to pay off.
"A lot of eyes have opened," she said. "Risk has decreased as individual risk controls have been installed."
One example she cited was the recent merging of several multilateral netting schemes into CLS Services Ltd.-an effort led by the Group of 20 banks.
In addition to promoting multilateral netting, which simplifies settlement by merging multiple credits and debits between two partners into a single transaction, CLS aims to reduce foreign exchange risk by streamlining those transactions.
Another industry group with potential to improve the payment systems is the Federal Reserve Board's advisory group for wholesale payments.
Ms. Hricik will be Chase's representative in the still-forming advisory group, which would keep the Fed tuned in to the types of services banks need from them.
"We need more direct and ongoing national communication with the private sector," said Dara Hunt, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Ms. Hricik said she first was attracted to the payments business during her early days as a programmer at Chase. Payment systems are the confluence of her two strengths: technology and math.
Born in Latrobe, Pa., she received her undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer sciences from Indiana (Pa.) University at a time when computers were just beginning to blossom as a field of study.
After working briefly with the Securities Industry Automation Corp. as a consultant, Ms. Hricik joined Chase in 1976. She rose within a few years to operations manager. At night, she studied at Columbia University and eventually received an MBA.
Over the years, she has taken on increasing amounts of responsibility as the operations side of the payment systems has taken center stage. "Ten years ago, technology and operations people were not major influencers in business strategies, but now we are," Ms. Hricik said.
Since Chase's merger with Chemical Banking Corp., Ms. Hricik and Denis O'Leary, Chase's chief information officer, have worked hard to enhance the bank's wholesale services.
Ms. Hricik said the merger conversion was a trying time that sometimes required her to stay overnight at the bank's MetroTech computer complex in Brooklyn.
Now, with many of the merger-related projects successfully completed, Ms. Hricik and other Chase executives are taking time to acknowledge that they were not the only ones placed under the gun.
Ms. Hricik recently visited the bank's Tampa-based automated clearing house processing facility to thank workers there for their efforts during the merger.
The Tampa shop recently completed a 15-month consolidation of the ACH systems of 4,000 corporate customers. To avoid service disruptions, each of the customers was converted to the new system individually.
About 120 employees worked weekends to accomplish the task, and Ms. Hricik and other Chase executives thought it important that their efforts be rewarded with a party and gifts.
"They deserved it," Ms. Hricik said. "These people just killed themselves."
The biggest looming test for Ms. Hricik and her co-workers is adapting Chase's international systems to deal with the proposed single European currency.
"On day one the books all become Euro, so it will be like a big bang," she said.