Reversing three years of lack-luster attendance at its annual technology conference, the American Bankers Association expects 5% more bankers this year than last.

The ABA attributes the increased attendance at next week's National Operations and Automation Conference to improved bank profitability and banks' need to generate fee income. Fee-producing businesses, such as cash management and trust services, usually rely heavily on technology.

"My sense is that banks are focusing on operations areas as opportunities to make tangible profits," said Charles Raphael, first vice president of NBD Bancorp, and chairman of NOAC's planning committee.

"NOAC is the one industry conference that gets at what the critical success factors are," he added.

Key Revenue Source

NOAC, being held May 23-26 in New Orleans, has been an important source of revenue for the ABA, generally equaling the receipts from the association's annual fall convention. But starting in the 1980s, NOAC attendance fell dramatically until 1991, when just 800 bankers attended a show that once had boasted thousands.

Since then, the ABA has segmented NOAC's seminars. In 1991, it instituted tracks designed for community banks, corporate operations, and retail services. In the process it drew in more community banks, in addition to the money-center and superregional banks that once sent the majority of attendees.

The Distribution

"We've cut back from the hey-day of NOAC," said one technology executive with a money-center bank. "Because vendors already contact us aggressively, NOAC is ideally suited for somewhat smaller banks."

Attendance figures over the past four years show that the greatest concentration of attendees have come from institutions with less than $250 million in assets, and from those with between $1 billion and $10 billion in assets, with 29% coming from each category.

About 17% of the attendees come from banks with over $10 billion in assets, 7% from banks with between $500 million and $1 billion in assets, and 18% from banks with $250 million to $500 million.

Robert Barrett, president and chief operating officer of Banc One Services Corp., is slated to give the keynote address at this year's conference.

Other sessions will focus on smart cards, telephone banking, and the delivery of mutual funds and other nontraditional bank products.

Emerging Technologies

Karl E. Martersteck, a vice president at AT&T's Bell Labs, is slated to speak on emerging technologies such as fiber optics and automatic speech recognition and their application to banking.

Microsoft Corp., plans to demonstrate the commercial lending system it has been developing with Michigan National Bank, along with technology companies Andersen Consulting, BancA, and Micro Resources Inc.

The software is intended to take up where International Business Machines Corp. left off when it terminated its project to develop the Officer's Workbench, intended to be a soup-to-nuts system for originating and tracking loans.

Microsoft also plans to make good on its promise at last year's NOAC to deliver industry-specific products that run on the Windows operating system.

Windows-Based Branch System

Ampersand Corp., York, Pa., plans to announce a branch automation product that uses Microsoft's standards and runs on MS-Windows. The product, called Sellstation, comes in three versions, for platform personnel, tellers, and lenders. The first, the platform version, will be available at the end this month, according to Dale Smith, president of the company.

Banctec Systems Inc., Atlanta, is expected to announce a new technology strategy for its imaging and nonimaging products that will make its software capable of running on any type of hardware.

Worth Information Inc. of Minneapolis will use NOAC to launch a new version of its Harvest customer information software. The current version runs only on a single personal computer and is used by a handful of community banks in the Midwest.

The new version of Harvest will run on a Unix workstation and deliver information over a network to personal computers.

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