Lost in the noise about banking's latest mega-merger is the fact that incompatible computer platforms can turn big earnings projections into big charge-offs. Just ask Wells Fargo.

Not so with KeyCorp, which is using a firmwide common systems platform as the premise for its ambitious plans to expand nationally. "Most of the work on (the platform) has been done post-merger (with Society National Bank)," says James Moss, chief banking analyst at Duff & Phelps. "They realized the systems side was fundamental to their success. They didn't move ahead with trying to push a lot of product out the door until they felt they had the database marketing system behind it."

The result for the bank's retail and corporate customers is a common platform that is accessible from any of its 1,100 branches and 1,900 ATMs in 14 states, says KeyCorp evp Allen J. Gula. Also integrated into the system are four telemarketing centers, a single ledger and a data warehouse, as well as an ability to analyze accounts across the enterprise. Building this meant eliminating duplicate deposit accounts, obligor numbers in commercial loan accounts, and officer codes in what had been semi- independent bank regions. The bank budgeted $35 million for the project; he says it spent $9.4 million of that by July 18. The system went live in August.

The platform is big, but it's flexible, adds Gula. "If we find something that's better than what we have (during a future merger), we can plug it right into our platform." The result is a good base for future expansion. "(The platform) is very strong compared with others, but they've got a bunch of people right behind them," says Moss. Among them: Norwest, U.S. Bancorp, and NationsBank. KeyCorp's platform is"very easy to use, which is crucial. There's no one ahead of them."

-reinbach tfn.com

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