Expansion-minded banker Robert W. Minnick Jr. has made his peace with the outsourcing question, one that other acquisitive community bankers across the country will have to answer as more small-town banks expand their horizons.

"When I'm sitting here looking at reports of newly acquired banks 50 miles away, trying to blend them together, well it just doesn't work," said Mr. Minnick, president and chief executive of Evergreen Bancshares in Tallahassee, Fla.

"I need to get them under our umbrella as soon as possible. That's always been a nightmare."

That nightmare would only intensify for Evergreen, the parent company of $125 million-asset Guaranty National Bank, if it fulfills its ambition of quadrupling in size between now and the year 2000. Its assets already have increased fivefold since 1990.

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Enter Fiserv Inc. The Tampa office of the Milwaukee-based data processor is adding Evergreen to its client list of approximately 50 institutions in the Florida region. Full conversion is expected by March.

Fiserv and Evergreen officials believe more and more financial institutions will be making this switch, particularly those that intend to grow like Evergreen.

"I think this is the direction banks are moving," Mr. Minnick said.

"Small banks like us that are trying to grow can't do it like we used to. It's time to bring the experts in."

Among other services, Fiserv will provide basic data processing applications, such as item entry, cash letters, and access to customer information. All of the bank's seven offices will be connected by network, allowing for standardized operating procedures.

Perhaps most important for Evergreen and its ambitious plans, however, is that the new system will enable it to rapidly integrate the operations of newly purchased banks. "It normally takes about six months to assimilate a new bank into a company," said Richard A. Wolfe, the Florida sales manager for Fiserv.

"But we'll handle the new acquisitions for them and convert that sucker within 30 days."

The entire investment for Evergreen -- including software being connected with Fiserv's Tampa office -- amounts to $646,000. The monthly fee will be about $27,000, only $3,000 more than what it costs the bank to handle these services in-house.

Mr. Minnick considers the investment worthwhile primarily because he was dissatisfied with back-office services provided by Evergreen's correspondent banks, to which it was "just a small fish in a big pond." He found the arrangement generally inflexible, with slow response in resolving errors and making program changes.

The new system will streamline Evergreen's operations further, giving the bank the capacity to manage an estimated $280 million of assets with 100 employees. The ratio for its peer group is $280 million with 170 employees.

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