On the day its antitrust trial got under way in Washington and 11 months after initial marketing pitches to the banking industry, Microsoft Corp. said Monday that 20 financial companies have become customers of its highly touted DNA computing framework.

Microsoft described them as "top-tier" institutions, but only a few consented to have their names disclosed. They include Citigroup's Travelers Property Casualty Corp., SunTrust Banks Inc.'s Crestar Bank subsidiary, and the securities firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

The announcement, combined with strong words of endorsement from the users, indicates considerable progress in the selling of Windows DNA- Distributed interNet Applications-as a way to link various kinds of software with older, more inflexible legacy systems.

Microsoft's global supporting cast has 13 banks-including Crestar, Cleveland's Ohio Savings Bank, and Italy's Monte dei Paschi di Siena - plus five insurance companies, two securities firms, and at least 20 software vendors.

Though Microsoft has been dogged by various controversies, the DNA approach that chairman Bill Gates unveiled at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery '97 conference was widely seen as a way to upgrade systems and break down walls between them.

"It's the next logical step in applications development, whether it's DNA or Sybase's Universal Server," said Lawrence Tabb, group director of Tower Group, a research and consulting firm in Newton, Mass. "Firms can quickly implement financial services applications without needing to rebuild servers. These types of industry standards should be made part of the infrastructure of development platforms."

He and Microsoft officials pointed out that the software giant offers "core technology" that other developers build on. A software development kit is due to be released at Retail Delivery '98, running the week of Nov. 30 in Las Vegas. Microsoft is also forming a DNA FS (financial services) advisory council.

Microsoft worldwide banking industry manager Michael Dusche said, "We've built the robust plumbing infrastructure to allow banks to integrate their delivery channels and lower their operational costs."

Diana Beecher, Travelers' chief information officer, said the property/casualty company is piloting Windows DNA to improve workflows with independent agents. Underwriters can consolidate data from multiple sources in real time.

"Going from one application to another takes longer and is more annoying," said Ms. Beecher. "With this they need to type it in once and there are savings right there."

She called the technology "very hot" and said it could inspire banking uses within the new Citigroup.

Tripp Johnson, senior vice president and electronic commerce manager at Crestar Bank in Richmond, Va., said DNA, when proven, could similarly expand within SunTrust.

Crestar worked with five vendors-TransLink Software Inc., Diebold Inc., Corillian Corp., Argo Data Resource Corp., and Syntellect Inc.-to create "a consistent look and feel" across its mainframes, automated tellers, Internet banking system, teller stations, and voice response units. "We hope it increases the use of alternative delivery channels and enables branch tellers to perform more sales," Mr. Johnson said.

The $6 billion-asset Ohio Savings Bank is piloting Windows DNA in its telephone banking centers.

"We intend to roll it out to 45 branches in a matter of weeks," said marketing director Rodney Whitwell. "The focus is not just routine customer service but is sales-based."

To indicate scalability, Microsoft said the system is running on 1,850 servers and 11,000 client computers at 1,200 branches of Monte dei Paschi di Siena. It said cashier service times are faster and end-of-day closes take 15 minutes, down from 45.

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