The Huntington National Bank is nearing the end of a comprehensive upgrade of its branch automation systems.

The upgrade has already taken place at 164 of the bank's approximately 200 branch offices in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

The project at the lead bank of $16 billion-asset Huntington Bancshares Inc. is aimed at improving the ability of branch employment to sell new bank products.

"Our hope is that this will be an effective sales tool for our personal bankers," said John Butler, the vice president who heads the branch automation project. "We've automated a lot of the bank office stuff to cut down on the number of intrusions or distractions from a [sales] presentation."

486-Based Computers

So far, about 700 new International Business Machines Corp. personal computers equipped with Intel Corp. 486 microprocessors have been placed on the desks of platform workers in Ohio, where the upgrade is nearly completed.

The powerful workstations replace a group of IBM 4700 branch terminals that responded slowly to commands and did not possess the range of graphical capabilities that the bank desired.

With the new workstations, Huntington is using IBM's OS/2 operating system. Bank officials said the adoption of OS/2 will dramatically improve response times while simultaneously allowing for the inclusion of a wide range of "what if" and graphical representations for customers.

Graphical Capacity a Key

"Our system is very text-based today, but our goal is to evolve into more graphical user look and feel," Mr. Butler said. "OS/2 is a real key as far as enabling us to do that."

One of the reasons for Huntington's emphasis on the platform terminals' graphical capabilities is that the bank, like many institutions, has recently begun selling investment products, which are somewhat more complex to present to customers than traditional bank products, such as checking accounts or certificates of deposit.

About 200 Huntington platform employees have been certified to sell investment products, and that number rises every week. The goal is to eventually have at least one or two bankers at each branch qualified to sell all 14 to 16 mutual funds that the bank offers.

Mr. Butler said the system's software -- designed in conjunction with Dallas-based Argo Data Resources -- was created with the thought that customers would be viewing the data. As such, it is written in plain English, with no codes or bank jargon to confuse or complicate the sales presentation.

The bank also cited the streamlining of the loan process as a reason for initiating the branch systems upgrade.

According to Mr. Butler, Huntington is close to completing a branch system module that would bring to every branch the ability to handle an entire loan transaction -- from the processing of the application to underwriting and closing on the loan.

New Branches to Be Added

Eventually, Huntington Bancshares plans to expand the system to the branches of institutions it has recently acquired in Michigan and West Virginia. These branches are currently precluded from the new system because they have not yet begun offering Huntington's standard line of financial products. Their addition would bringing the total of on-line branches to 310.

Mr. Butler declined to specifically predict how the new system would affect sales efforts. But he did emphasize that employee training is every bit as important as the technology being installed by the bank.

"Systems don't sell, people do," he said."

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