Retail bankers are obsessed with technology these days.

So it was no surprise that John F. Grundhofer, chairman of Cincinnati- based Star Banc Corp., kicked off American Banker's second annual Banking & Financial Services Best Practices Forum here last week with a welcome from the company's Internet site.

Mr. Grundhofer spoke in the flesh, too. But his keynote presentation began with a conference-hall projection of a Star Banc Web page and a few words from Mr. Grundhofer transmitted over the Net.

Because banks face regulatory burdens and unprecedented competition, he said, they must invest more in technology and automation and be on the lookout all the time for alliances with technology and communications partners.

"We must move into the fast lane now," Mr. Grundhofer said.

John McCoy, chairman and CEO of Banc One Corp., seconded that motion when he opened the forum's schedule a day later. Observing that "life is about change," he discussed in detail his Columbus, Ohio, company's deal to acquire First USA Inc.

Calling First USA "world-class," Mr. McCoy described the credit card company's data warehouse operation that collects and analyzes credit reports on 16 million customers every quarter.

And he praised the telephone-number-coded technology that lets First USA customer service representatives know who is calling and what they may need before the customer says a word.

Overall, Mr. McCoy observed, bankers need to find the world-class operators and bring them into the fold.

One of the most entertaining sessions was the "Sex, Sin, Golf, and Banking" presentation led by Steve Cone, KeyCorp's highly regarded chief marketing officer.

Taking an in-depth look at the branding trend, Mr. Cone used a series of television ads to outline the good and bad found in today's bank branding initiatives.

PNC Bank Corp. won Mr. Cone's approval of its efforts to promote itself as the company where a customer can "bank the way you want," but he slammed a Banc One ad that featured a professional wrestler trying to think about his banking services while being pummeled in the ring.

Mr. Cone also showed a series of KeyCorp branding ads that make use of Anthony Edwards, a star of the TV medical drama "E.R." Mr. Edwards, whose face adorned KeyCorp.'s 1995 annual report and will also be featured on the 1996 annual report, is a perfect spokesman because "people think he's smart, loyal, and informed," Mr. Cone said.

He noted, however, that Mr. Edwards had not been the banking company's first choice: Movie stars Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were too expensive, however.

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