After 27 years a International Business Machines Corp., William V. Toner was ready for a change -- but not a abig one.

Earlier this year, the 49-year-old bank technology expert had planned to lossen his Big Blue tie and retire to his vacation home in France.

Finding that old habits die hard, Mr. Toner returned this month to his old profession as a check technology strategist, joining J.D. Carreker & Associates Inc., a Dallas-based consulting firm.

One fringe benefit of the job is that "I'll be getting over to France fairly often," Mr. Toner said. "And that should be enough to hold me until I'm really ready to pack it in."

A Pioneer in the Field

The Carreker post, which is new, represents a change of scenery but not direction for Mr. Toner, who used his pioneering knowledge about check-processing technology to become a popular speaker on the bank-operations conference circuit.

Since graduating with a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Lafayette University in 1965, he has spent nearly his entire professional life devising and implementing new ways for financial institutions to process checks.

Beginning with IBM straight from college, he was part of a team of computer and mathematical specialists who worked with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to develop a prototype of the world's first comprehensive computerized check processing system.

By 1970, after leading IBM's installations of complete systems at a number of financial institutions, including Philadelphia National Bank, Mr. Toner took on national responsibility for IBM's check processing business.

It was in this position that he first saw how check-processing needs varied from bank to bank. He spent most of the last 20 years researching and installingnew applications to fill those needs.

"In 1970 I began using mu technical background to help banks identify new business opportunities," Mr. Toner said. "The dynamics of check processing change dramatically from place to place, and so do the opportunities to cut costs and generate revenue."

In the mid-1970s, while most of the nation's largest institutions were dispersing their check processing across several sites, money-center banks began consolidating their operations to take advantage of economies of scale.

In his new position, Mr. Toner will be looking for similar opportunities..

Not surprisingly, he believes future revenue and cost efficiencies will spring from the imaging technology in which IBM has been active, and which has already been installed by a number of financial institutions.

Back-Office Benefits Lie Ahead

Image-based chech-processing systems, in which computer images of checks rather than the items themselves are used for proof of deposit and statement rendering, dramatically streamline a number of back-office operations.

But Mr. Toner said the real operational improvements will come from integrating the check images with branch-office systems and from using the technology to upgrade conventional technologies such as electronic check presentment.

For the Carreker firm, which is influential in moving the industry toward several of the advanced payment technologies, Mr. Toner will also head projects in the areas of check-clearing utilitues and systems reengineering. Most of his work will be with large institutions.

"We are at the beginning of a new evolution for check processing," he said. "I was there when it began, so it's a little hard to let go when something new is coming along."

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