PHOENIX -- Jumping on a high-tech bandwagon, International Business Machines Corp. unveiled this week a suite of software designed to help bankers more easily modify their branch-automation systems.

The tecnology, showcased here at IBM's annual conference for its financial industry customers, uses object-oriented programming techniques, a radically new systems-development methodology that allows programmers to write software by mixing and matching smaller programs, called objects.

Although relatively new, object-oriented programming is gaining momentum in the banking industry as a handful of big banks, including Citicorp and Wells Fargo & Co., have already starting working with it in the hopes of gaining quantum productivity improvements in their software development shops. And judging by the overflow crowd at a seminar IBM held on the subject, other banks are eager to join in.

Meeting Changing Needs

"This technology is quite simply more responsive to bankers' needs in developing new products, especially in areas like mutual funds and annuities," where products can change quickly, said Bob Berini, an IBM retail banking marketing executive.

IBM is playing catch-up to rivals Unisys Corp., which introduced its own object-oriented branch system last year, but Mr. Berini said IBM is keeping in step with its customers.

"The learning curve is pretty steep with this, as it takes some time to get programmers used to working with objects," he said.

The software consists of PC-based platform-automation software called Visual Banker, which automates many sales and account-opening functions and provides "tool kits" to aid programmers in writing and modifying a bank's branch applications.

Footprint Software

Visual Banker was developed by a leading maker of object-oriented systems, Toronto-based Footprint Software Inc. the software requires IBM's OS/2 PC operating system.

IBM signed a licensing agreement with Footprint Software for Visual Banker late last year and has since added "hundreds" of objects that bankers can use with it, Mr. Berini said.

Toronto Dominion Bank has already installed Visual Banker, and Chase Manhattan Corp. and Bank of Montreal are testing the software, IBM officials said.

Visual Banker will complete with IBM's existing PC-based branch software, called Consumer Transaction, which a number of banks have already installed.

Hoping to allay those banks' fears that Big Blue was favoring Visual Banker, Mr. Berini said IBM was working on adding object-oriented capabilities to Consumer Transaction as well.

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