AT ARKANSAS' First National Bank of De Witt, management says it is working harder to attract deposits it once took for granted.

Officials at the $75 million-asset bank also say they are working smarter: In the last five years they have installed personal computers to make their employees more efficient and deliver better customer service.

Sherry P. Criswell, First National's cashier and director of operations, said that over the last few years the bank has seen a slight but steady drop in deposits as interest rates on certificates of deposits have fallen, and customers have moved money elsewhere.

To remain competitive, the bank launched a two-pronged strategy: better technology and southern hospitality.

"In order to stay competitive, we have to be able to offer something more to the customer," said Ms. Criswell.

"We have expanded the use of technology to the personal computer, making it a part of our everyday operation."

Over the last six months, the bank has seen a slight boost in deposits. Through the first three months of 1994, deposits had risen to $66.3 million, from $65 million at yearend 1993.

Chief executive Warren Jennings Sr. said PCs allow the bank to do much more than it was previously capable of doing.

"When we first installed computers, we did not know what was going on," he said. "Now we don't know how we would get along without the machines."

The bank, which installed its first PCs five years ago, recently began using the machines to replace its "dumb" terminals. Today, the bank uses PCs in its trust, payroll, loan, and customer service areas.

"We have started to use personal computers in many different areas and have had a lot of success," said Ms. Criswell.

The bank also uses PCs to emulate a mainframe terminal. This function allows bank employees to access both mainframe and PC information from a single machine instead of having two machines on a desk.

"Using a PC has allowed us to take information and extract it from the mainframe, and use it more efficiently in our day-to-day operation," said Ms. Criswell. "We have been able to download customer information and use it for cross-selling and to enhance the level of customer service."

The bank operates out of a single location serving the Arkansas County area, where the dominant industry is farming.

"We found that the personal computer offers more flexibility when it comes to keeping up to date with our accounts," said Ms. Criswell. "The information has always been available; now it is just easier to get at and to work with.

"The personal computer lets us carry the information in more detail than we are able to on the mainframe," she continued.

Officials at First National Bank of De Witt also say PCs have improved the efficiency of the bank's loan operations.

By installing a local area network, the bank's commercial loan department is able to communicate without having to move papers back and forth.

"The systems let the staff dip into each other's files through the file server," said Ms. Criswell. "Since we have quite a large farming portfolio with Jots of documentation, the system lets us keep all of the information from one year to the next on it, and allows easy access to the data.

"It allows us to keep all of our loan documentation on one system, which makes things much easier."

The bank uses a Unisys Corp. mainframe that is linked to approximately a dozen 486-based personal computers.

The PC is community bankers' tool of choice for service delivery, according to an annual technology survey conducted by American Banker and the Tower Group.

This year's survey found that 82% of community banks have committed to buy PCs in 1994, compared to 78% last year.

"One of the real benefits the personal computer offers is the ability to speed up transaction time, which increases the level of service," said Deborah Williams, a consultant at the Wellesley, Mass.-based Tower Group.

"It took a while for the personal computer to catch on, bet now most banks realize the important role it can play, and they have started to use the machines for many different applications." Ms. Criswell said First National management sees the use of a personal computer as a tool that adds to "the ease" of its operation while enhancing its competitive advantage.

"In order to be competitive in the market, you have to have flexibility in your operation," she said.

"One of the ways we have done that is by installing personal computers."

The bank has also started to use PCs for cross-selling and prospecting for new customers.

Ms. Criswell said information from the mainframe is downloaded to the bank's PCs in order to create a customer information file. The sales staff is able to use the information to home in on its existing customer base to market new products. First National is using the machines for other functions, including payroll.

Ms. Criswell said the use of a PC for payroll is like the difference between "night and day."

"The computer can do things so much faster than when we performed the functions manually," she said. "Before, we often had to calculate the information such as taxes and hours manually. Now it is done on-screen..

By using a personal computer for payroll, the bank is able to ensure it keeps up with compliance issues and regulations as well.

"Now we don't have to worry about missing regulations, because the system is automatically updated when the regulations change," she said.

First National is also using personal computers as part of its optical disk storage system.

The information is downloaded from the mainframe to the PC and then turned into a report which is stored on optical disk.

"We are able to store the data and retrieve [them] much faster than microfilm or microfiche," said Ms. Criswell. "It also provides a safer environment to store information." At a Glance FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF DEWITT Headquarters De Witt, Ark.Assets $72.2 millionEmployees 351993 return on assets 1.72%1993 return on equity 21.97%

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