Consumer Marketing Guru Seeing His Vision Realized

The recent flood of bank mergers has brought a smile to the lips of John Fisher, the marketing expert who helped shape Banc One Corp. into a retail powerhouse in the 1980s.

The industry's warp drive to consolidate gives banks the chance to practice what Mr. Fisher says he has been preaching for years.

Mr. Fisher, a semiretired executive at Banc One, is a longtime advocate of new, often automated ways of delivering consumer service.

A Prophet Vindicated

For years, he has extolled the marketing virtues of streamlining operations.

Although that idea seems obvious today in light of the overcapacity that besets the industry, Mr. Fisher still encounters resistance to his view that banks have been slow to address the problem.

He won't hear any back talk, however, from executives at BankAmerica or NCNB. These two banks are expected to aggressively speed through their mergers with Security Pacific Corp. and C&S/Sovran respectively, seeking benefits of back-office consolidation: one set of products using one set of systems.

"If BankAmerica can bring a uniform product to its large market, it will be able to put big marketing dollars behind those products," said Mr. Fisher in a recent telephone conversation from his home in Sedona, Ariz. If BankAmerica can offer a single set of products, for example, it can use national television to reach its broad market, he explained.

Mr. Fisher's home is about a two-hour drive north of Phoenix. Mr. Fisher, 63, moved there just over a year ago, drawn by a lifelong interest in the West. But even in his somewhat isolated hamlet of 10,000 people, Mr. Fisher said the effects of banking's consolidation will be felt.

BankAmerica has a branch in town, and so does Security Pacific. Until recently there were four banks in town, but the two West Coast giants bought the others out. Mr. Fisher doesn't expect to have two branches for long. One, he believes, will suffice.

For a man who never wrote a line of computer code, he exerted enormous influence on Bank One's - and the industry's - deployment of technology. He and John B. McCoy pushed the bank into processing transactions for Merrill Lynch's groundbreaking Cash Management Account. He established the bank's big credit-card processing operation, which handles the back office processing for 2,000 banks. One of his last accomplishments at Banc One was getting the branches to offer a common set of products.

"I see that as the significant development of the 1990s, where you can deliver a common product, maybe priced uniquely, anywhere in the bank," said Mr. Fisher.

Advocate of Unified Systems

The goal of technology, in this nontechnician's view, is to enable a bank to deliver those common products at a low cost and reach a mass market.

"That's unlike what we did for the past 30 years, where everyone did whatever they wanted with software," said Mr. Fisher.

Colleagues describe him as a classic individualist, convinced of the rightness of his vision and quick to brush aside less poorly conceived ideas.

Hand in hand with the streamlined products goes another trend: more self-service on the part of banking customers. "We are now awaiting the next family of technical inventions," said Mr. Fisher.

In his role as technology scout for the bank, Mr. Fisher is working on the introduction of two-way or "interactive" video - connecting a customer in Indiana with, say, a mortgage banker in Ohio. He is also looking into portable computer terminals the size of a checkbook, which could be used to keep track of an account and even record the image of a check.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.