Daniel R. Eitingon says he has a type-A personality.

His drive will no doubt be useful in his new job as head of the technology banking group First Interstate Bancorp formed in April.

Mr. Eitingon, an executive vice president who previously headed retail banking for the bank's California operations, now manages a group based in Phoenix that includes data processing, marketing, and electronic delivery channels.

As Mr. Eitingon sees it, his job at the Los Angeles-based banking company is to manage the gradual change from a retail delivery system where branches play a dominant role to a future era when electronic channels will be king.

"We're trying to build a process that integrates what is happening in the branches today . . . with where we have to get to in the future," he said. "It's this transition that's the challenge."

Mr. Eitingon said his top priority is to complete two "world class" telephone service centers. By the end of 1995, the $57 billion-asset bank's nine phone centers are to be consolidated into locations in Reno, Nev., and Freemont, Calif., that will handle sales and service calls for the entire customer base.

Beyond that, the executive wants the new technology group to be the place where changes in marketplace needs, technology, and sales strategy can be considered together.

"I basically have control over all three aspects of the manufacturing cycle," said Mr. Eitingon.

In the new "vertically integrated" group, the marketing people help define market needs based on readings of consumer demand and behavior. The data processing and systems area, he said, is the factory that develops the tools to meet those needs. And the electronic channels are the way to reach customers and execute the changing retail strategy.

The new division was formed near the end of a project launched three years ago to consolidate systems at First Interstate's 1,167 branches in 13 states. To date, First Interstate has closed 11 data centers and converted most major systems onto a common platform.

"Overall, it has been a very successful program, " said Ronald I. Mandle, an analyst with Sanford C. Berstein & Co.

The success can be seen in the bank's efficiency, which has improved steadily since the effort was begun. The ratio of noninterest expense per dollar of revenue has fallen from about 68% in 1992 to under 60% in the first quarter of this year.

The departure of C. Webb Edwards, the executive credited with managing the consolidation, led to the creation of the technology banking group, said Mr. Eitingon.

Mr. Edwards left First Interstate in April to take on a similarly massive consolidation at Norwest Corp. in Minneapolis, and the technology unit was formed shortly thereafter, according to Mr. Eitingon.

"When you lose a key player in an organization, it's the right time to ask the question: Should we continue to run it this way? Or should we look at alternative configurations?" said Mr. Eitingon.

Another reason, he said, was the need for the bank to focus more attention on alterative delivery. And, he added, "We have somebody - that is, me - who knows something about these areas and maybe can provide some leadership."

Mr. Eitingon's short-term goal, however, is not to lead First Interstate as far into home banking frontiers as industry pioneers like Citicorp or Huntington Bancshares.

Mr. Eitingon, for example, does not see a place for special screen phones. "They are too expensive to be given away in most cases. And to get consumers to buy something that really has only one purpose is" a tough sell, he said.

And while First Interstate plans a consumer test of PC-based banking this year, the service will be offered without fanfare. "It's not to make money, (but) primarily just to learn what customers want," so the bank will be prepared when such services become more popular. "We are just not going to put huge amounts of money behind this until we see an increase in the demand."

The bank is similarly watching developments on the Internet, where it has set up a home page.

"I've spent a lot of my personal time trying to work around the Internet and understand what different companies are doing," he said.

So for now, First Interstate is devoting much effort toward building a more sophisticated, centralized telephone banking service.

"The telephone piece strategically gives us a stepping stone . . . to move customers out of the branch and into alternative delivery," he said. "It may not be the ultimate answer. But I think it's very hard right now to go out and build a strategy based on pure electronic delivery."

Mr. Eitingon downplayed the significance of moves by major banks like Citicorp, First Chicago Corp., and Chase Manhattan Corp. to encourage customers to use automated teller machines, telephones, and other nonbranch channels.

"There is going to be a slow pace change, not as fast as Citibank or First Chicago or any of the others may think," he said. "Banks can influence consumer behavior, there's no question about it. But the real pace is change is going to be dictated by the consumer, not by the banks."

While First Interstate is moving more cautiously than some on electronic delivery, the bank does has ambitious plans to use technology to cull customer data from various systems to assist marketing and sales efforts. That aim has been aided by the recent systems consolidation, in which the customer data base is standardized for customers in 13 states.

"That is something that very few (multistate) banks can say they have," he said.

The goal of the data warehouse strategy is to build links between various key systems that will enable the bank to pull together information in a central data base. That information can they be combined with demographic information to produce a list of consumers who may be likely to, say, want a First Interstate credit card.

"What you have is an incredibly rich data base of information that is waiting for the mining process," he said.

According to Mr. Eitingon, tapping into the bank's core deposit system, which was supplied by Hogan Systems Inc., is a key element of the data warehousing strategy.

"Banks like First Interstate that have consolidated systems can move further, faster with data warehouse initiatives," said James McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group in New York. "But the real trick is mining the data base."

The industry as a whole, he said, ranks about "three on a scale of 10" on exploiting such technology.

Mr. Eitingon concedes that work remains to be done at First Interstate. "I'm not going to try to tell you that we have every piece of data connected into this thing. That's a gradual process."

First Interstate, he said, also needs to get better information about customer profitability - an important concern as the bank plots its alternative delivery strategy.

The bank has long had a fairly accurate model to gauge customer profitability. But the advent of telephone and ATM banking has changed the dynamics of profitability.

"We have all the data," said Mr. Eitingon, "but we have to get in there and analyze it."

The bank is looking at two ways to improve this customer information. One involves research and sampling the behavior of some customers. Those results would be applied to the entire customer base. The other, more expensive option is tracking behavior by account.

"We're still debating as to which approach makes more sense," he said. "But I think the research approach is probably a good enough proxy.

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