Technologies now just being tested promise to transform the banking workplace by the year 2000, displacing low-level employees and challenging managers.
In a wide-ranging interview, freelance reporter Michelle Louzoun questioned technology expert Serge Beauregard about the prospects.
Mr. Beauregard is vice president of strategic technology at Orlando-based Newtrend, a vendor of banking software and data services.
Q.: What are some of the hot technological breakthroughs we can expect as we enter 21st century?
Beauregard: By the end of the 1990s, computers that know how to use the telephone will be as common as cars with windshield wipers.
Optical diskettes, which are now showing up in banking systems, can store 2,000 times more information than the 3.5-inch diskettes that are used in personal computers today. Currently 1% to 5% of all banks use optical storage, but by the end of the century it will be in common use.
Today, less than half of all banks tie their personal computers into local area networks. By the year 2000, a bank that is not networked would be running blind.
Computer screens will speak to people in a more congenial fashion by using graphics, maps, and multimedia animations. Improvements in power and storage will bring image processing, voice recognition, and voice annotation into common use.
Complex programs such as geographic information systems will be affordable.
Some banks are already experimenting with geographic information systems, which use color-coded maps to represent their distribution of customers and product combinations. This is a more intuitive way to present information and makes it much easier to interpret.
By the end of the century, geographic information systems will be in widespread use by banks.
Leading-edge banks will be using animated displays to analyze market trends. This presentation technique is similar to the time-lapse weather displays we're beginning to see on television.
These animated displays will show market trends and highlight changes over time. They will provide new insights into important business patterns.
Today, banks hire professionals to visualize the meanings of their spreadsheets. With animated maps, many patterns become obvious.
A lot of the market analyst's expertise will be packaged into the software itself. This software will allow the bank to replace an $80,000-a-year analyst with a $20,000-a-year paraprofessional.
Q.: Are other bank employees in danger of losing jobs or having their job responsibilities changed significantly?
BEAUREGARD: Yes. Take image technology, for example, which will be introduced into banking through the check-processing department.
Proof operators will no longer have to key in the dollar amount of a check. Machines will automatically capture the image of the check and read its dollar value right off that image.
Unisys recently introduced a system that does this, and IBM is hot on their heels. This technology can cut the number of proof operators by 30% to 50%.
Q.: What about voice-recognition technology?
Beauregard: AT&T just announced that it will replace 30% of its operators with computerized voice-recognition technology. When asked to accept a collect call, the computer will recognize the word "collect" and place the call properly. No operator will be involved.
Soon enough, banks will incorporate this same voice technology into their customer-service systems. The caller will be able to ask for an account balance, stop payment on a check, or transfer funds.
Today we have voice-response systems that the bank customer activates by pushing the Touch Tone buttons on the telephone. But a voice-recognition system is easier to use. The customer doesn't have to use Touch Tone buttons to navigate through a long list of options. Information or service can be requested directly.
Today's voice recognition can only answer very simple questions, but its capabilities are growing fast.
Q.: In what other ways will technological developments impact the workplace?
Beauregard: Computer automation will penetrate more deeply into clerical work, allowing banks to do more data processing with fewer people.
The '90s will also see computers make tremendous strides in the analysis and presentation of information.
We are rapidly automating professional-caliber work. No longer are we focusing solely on automating clerical and processing tasks.
Q.: What skills are necessary to accommodate these technological innovations?
Beauregard: When banks hire tellers, they screen for people who score high on numeracy and literacy tests. But computers are becoming "no brainers" to work with.
Soon, banks will be able to place more emphasis on selecting workers who score high on "people skills" such as servicing the customer and selling products. The bank's customer will really like that change in emphasis.
Q.: What kind of managers would be best suited for the upcoming century?
Beauregard: Bank managers need to find ways to use technology for competitive advantage. That means they need employees who are eager to learn and use the powerful tools of the '90s.
There is a premium on bank professionals who are resilient and have an apetite for change. Technology will continue to make a powerful contribution to competitive fitness.
Q.: How can banks best prepare for these changes in technology?
Beauregard: Banks should treat technology as they would any other business resources. They should devote time to mastering the details of the technology and do the hard work needed to identify the opportunities it offers. Or they should farm out that responsibility to a competent outsourcer.
Smart use of technology won't happen unless someone in the loop is highly competent and accountable for making it happen.