Edward E. Crutchfield, chairman and chief executive officer of First Union Corp., has been named chairman of the Bankers Roundtable's technology division, the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat.

Mr. Crutchfield succeeded the only previous holder of the post, Frank Wobst of Huntington Bancshares, at the Bankers Roundtable's annual meeting last weekend in Phoenix.

The election puts one of banking's most colorful and hard-driving executives in a pivotal position to influence how the industry collectively will assimilate new technologies and respond to new forms of competition.

Mr. Crutchfield, Mr. Wobst, and the chairmen or presidents of eight more of the largest U.S. banking companies have comprised the board of the secretariat, known as BITS, since its formation in 1996. Joined by single representatives from the American Bankers Association and Independent Bankers Association of America, the BITS board signaled that the banking industry was united in its desire to control payment system policies and other aspects of its destiny that might be contested by technology companies and their products.

BITS chief executive officer Catherine Allen and others close to the organization said the board reaffirmed its resolve during the Phoenix meeting. Much of the BITS and Bankers Roundtable agendas were devoted to technology issues, and one of the guest speakers was Microsoft Corp. chairman William H. Gates, who is regarded as both a key technology vendor and a potential financial services competitor.

Ms. Allen, finishing her first year in the CEO job, said she sees Mr. Crutchfield's acceptance of the BITS chairmanship as a vote of confidence in the effort. She said it should further benefit from the leadership tandem of Mr. Crutchfield and Norwest Corp. chairman Richard M. Kovacevich, another BITS director and the newly elected chairman of the Bankers Roundtable, succeeding Frank V. Cahouet of Mellon Bank.

"BITS will benefit from (Mr. Crutchfield's) experience and skill as we work together to ensure that the industry continues to lead the way in the emerging world of electronic commerce," Ms. Allen said. He "will be building upon the strong foundation laid by Frank Wobst, whose vision, courage, and leadership are what created BITS and made it the vital and accomplished organization it is today."

Mr. Wobst, chairman and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington, pointed out in an interview that his role actually dates back three years, when he took the helm of a Bankers Roundtable technology task force that recommended the formation of BITS.

Mr. Wobst said he stayed on longer than planned as head of the BITS board because Edward D. Miller, the Chase Manhattan Corp. vice chairman in line to succeed him, retired. (Mr. Miller went on to become CEO of Equitable Life Assurance Society.) Extending his influence in this area, Mr. Wobst also served under Mr. Cahouet as chairman of the Bankers Roundtable's technology and payments committee.

Mr. Wobst will stay involved as a BITS board member and serve on its executive committee, which was organized to meet more frequently than the full board in the interest of continuity. He praised BITS' staff and banker-supporters for "coming a long way in a very short time," but added: "We have a long way to go and time is not on our side."

Of Mr. Crutchfield, Mr. Wobst said, "We are pleased that such a strong and action-oriented leader has stepped forward to take BITS further."

Mr. Crutchfield declined to comment on BITS matters so early in his tenure. He has come to be regarded as an astute manager of technology from the CEO level, presiding over what BITS in a press release described as "one of the most technology-driven banks." A Bankers Roundtable member since 1974, he has said publicly that size is crucial to his bank's long- term survival and that technology is crucial to getting bigger and absorbing acquisitions like the one of CoreStates Financial Corp. that First Union has pending.

Technology has become so big a part of the Charlotte, N.C., company's business that "sometimes I feel like I work for a big computer," Mr. Crutchfield said in a speech to the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery conference last December.

In a prepared statement about BITS, he said its initiatives "represent the banking industry's recognition that a unified approach on fundamental issues surrounding electronic commerce will be in the best interest of our customers, the general public, and the industry itself.

"It is too easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities and lose focus on the long term. BITS provides the opportunity for the banking industry to focus on critical issues at the interface of business and technology."

One of BITS' tangible goals came a step closer Tuesday as the organizations responsible for the competing technical standards in the home banking arena-Gold and OFX-said they will publish a "converged specification" in August. Gold was backed by Integrion Financial Network, a consortium including International Business Machines Corp. OFX, or Open Financial Exchange, resulted from an agreement among Checkfree Corp., Intuit Inc., and Microsoft Corp.

BITS pushed for compatibility, saying a bank could cut its costs by $1 million to $3 million if it did not have to build two home banking systems. The secretariat wants to bring similar order to electronic bill presentment and payment, an emerging field in which the OFX and Gold vendors, among others, are active.

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Janey A. Place, group executive vice president at NationsBank Corp., has been named chairwoman of the Financial Services Technology Consortium.

The consortium, known as FSTC, "has established itself as an effective organization to lead collaborative cross-industry efforts," said Ms. Place, who also is a member of the BITS Advisory Group.

The consortium, a nonprofit research and development group, was formed by Citicorp in 1993 to help banks develop new technologies.

Ms. Place is the first person to formally be named to lead the consortium. In the past, FSTC's members merely took turns at presiding over group meetings, said John Doggett, director of applied technology at BankBoston Corp. and a project director at the consortium.

"We really wanted to consolidate the group and place more emphasis at the board level," he said.

The consortium's participants include technology vendors, trade associations, and many banks that are members of BITS. Both technology groups have publicly aligned their respective goals to avert overlapping efforts.

- Steven Marjanovic

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