National City Corp. says it is saving as much as $1,400 per teller station by sticking with simple technology in its merger with First of America Bank Corp.

Cleveland-based National City decided to keep First of America's "dumb terminals"-so called because they lack the processing capability of personal computers. They will be upgraded with appropriate software.

NCI Banc-Mgr software from Network Controls International Inc. is expected to provide operating efficiencies besides making higher-priced work stations unnecessary, National City said.

National City bought two banking companies March 31, adding to the 825 branches it then operated more than 500 from Kalamazoo, Mich.-based First of America and 66 from Fort Wayne (Ind.) National Corp.

About a quarter of First of America's branches run custom-built teller software. The rest of the acquired branches have no teller automation.

"NCI allows us to upgrade all of our new and existing customer service representatives," said Beth Thompson, National City's vice president of retail branch automation.

The banking company has used earlier versions of the software since 1994. The one it is now installing incorporates NCI ThinClient technology, which directs most processing to a central server, leaving only "navigational" functions for the terminals to take care of.

Network Controls' XOver software, which helps run computers with different operating systems, will let National City use First of America's old International Business Machines Corp.'s 4704 terminals without modification.

With future versions of the software, the terminals should be able to handle teller, new-account, call-center, and Internet-based functions, National City said. Customers would no longer need to shuttle from one place to another in a branch to accomplish different tasks.

"The delivery channel-whether it is teller, platform, or call center systems-should not dictate the functionality that the user gets," said Ken Russell, vice president of North America operations for Charlotte, N.C.- based Network Controls International.

NCI also sells an Internet-style system that distributes functions via Web browsers. But National City, busy with integration, has no current plans to use that system, Ms. Thompson said.

First of America's Indiana branches were converted last weekend, and most of those in Michigan and Illinois will switch to National City's systems at the end of October.

"The transition seems like it is being done on a stealth basis, which reinforces the impression that National City has Tier 1 execution skills," said Michael M. Moran, an analyst with Roney & Co., Detroit.

Integrating the more decentralized First of America has required "a different set of skills than integrating two regional banks," said Sally Pope Davis of Goldman Sachs in New York.

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