By MATT BARTHEL

On the heels of its best financial results in several years, First Maryland Bancorp. is aggressively investing in technology for its branches.

The Baltimore-based bank holding, a subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks PLC, has laid out more than $12 million over six months to upgrade the systems that inform tellers and platform staff about bank customers.

"Core banking applications and a focus on expanding our relationships with existing customers have been at the heart of our recent performance," said Charles E. Siegmann, chief information officer at First National Bank of Maryland.

"The branches are the front lines of those efforts," said Mr. Siegmann, a First National senior vice president. "We want to equip our personnel with the best tools possible."

Extra Spending Money

Officials at the $9 billion-asset holding company said the bank's recent performance made it a little easier to find money for new projects.

For the first quarter of this year, First Maryland reported net income of $20 million, 9396 more than during the same period in 1991. In addition, the bank has shown marked improvements in return on assets.

The technology initiative began a few months before the most recent earnings were announced. The main elements are replacing an antiquated platform and teller system with personal computers while upgrading the central customerinformation system on the bank's mainframe.

Lower Unit Costs

International Business Machines Corp.'s Consumer Transaction software is used in the new system for platform workers and tellers. The system lets these employees automate a wider range of tasks, reducing the unit cost of branch services, Mr. Siegmann said.

The new customer information system, designed by First Maryland and Customer Focus International, Diamond Bar, Calif., is expected to dramatically boost the bank's sales efforts.

"Our salespeople had little confidence in the information delivered by the old system." Mr. Siegmann said. "We believe they are going to be much more effective in selling new products now that they can get a complete set of information about each customer."

Customer Retention Strategy

Since it costs roughly twice as much to recruit a new customer as to expand a relationship with a current one, First Maryland officials said many of their technology investments have been geared toward keeping clients.

To that end, bank officials said, they are moving into a second phase of their customer-information strategy. This phase will focus on creating software to identify the most profitable customer relationships, to maximize sales efforts.

First Maryland officials said they are also looking to improve the technology in consumer investment services, perhaps by using videoconferencing systems such as the ones being tested at Huntington Bancshares Inc., Columbus Ohio.

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