A survey from the Western Independent Bankers suggests that many community banks are dissatisfied with the way technology providers enhance and support their core processing products.

The study, based on responses from 118 community financial institutions in about 10 western states, gauged satisfaction with about a dozen bank technology providers.

As expected, the study revealed strengths and weaknesses of individual vendors, including Banker 80, Fiserv, Kirchman, M&I Data Services, and Systematics.

However, it also demonstrated that the community bank respondents feel vendors need to pay more attention to customer service and enhancements for their service bureau and in-house core processing products.

The vendors generally received high marks - nine points or higher on a scale that went to 10 - for system availability. But scores for customer service and system support and enhancements were only in the seven-point range.

Nancy Shepherd, executive director of the San Francisco-based Western Independent Bankers, said the survey is "a wake-up call" to service providers who have lagged behind in enhancing their products.

Community banks are looking to keep pace with larger competitors in areas such as remote banking and image item processing, but many can afford to do so only if a third-party service provider furnishes them with the necessary tools, she said.

The banks, on average, spent 0.38% of their asset total on information systems.

Surprisingly, none of the respondents operate an image-enabled item processing system, in which paper checks are digitally scanned to enable a bank to process computer images rather than paper.

However, one respondent in five said it will probably contract for image item processing services in the next 24 months.

"I think that's overly optimistic on their part," said Jerry Thurman, an information systems consultant who analyzed the study's data. "The interest in imaging is encouraging, but at this point the implementation expectations are a little unrealistic."

Other areas in which the responses showed room for improvement include automated teller machine deployment and teller line upgrades.

Only 71% of the banks surveyed owned ATMs, and only 21% of the respondents are using personal computers as their prime teller-line terminal. Both these numbers are below industrywide averages.

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