Despite predictions of the impending decline of the check as a payment mechanism, the Bank Administration Institute's annual check processing conference is expanding.
By renaming the gathering Transaction Processing '96, organizers of the event broadened its scope in the hope of drawing participants from beyond check processing's rank and file.
This year's event, held recently in San Antonio, drew 2,200 attendees, about 200 more than last year.
BAI officials said it did so by paying more attention to alternative electronic payment mechanisms and corporate involvement, and by offering more issues-oriented sessions devoted to future payment systems.
At the heart of the session was the widely held perception that technology is transforming the way business is conducted.
Raymond Hodgdon, an executive vice president at BAI, pointed to its highly popular Retail Delivery Conference as a model for its transaction processing conference.
The retail delivery conference was essentially an ATM seminar as recently as five years ago, drawing about 1,500 attendees; now, it attracts more than 6,000 people and has superseded other regular events, notably the American Bankers Association's National Operations and Automation Conference.
"We are just trying to follow the natural market forces," Mr. Hodgdon said. "We will expand more in the future."
Despite the hoopla preceding the event, some bankers noted the lack of major announcements and the absence of dramatics that are typically reserved for large gatherings.
"Nothing has really struck me yet except that this seems to be a waiting period for either the next wave of bank consolidations, service consolidations, or something else," said Bruce Brett, a senior vice president at Signet Bancorp, Richmond, Va.
He also admitted to being somewhat let down by the Federal Reserve banks' failure to announce anything "more dramatic that what they've already said."
Bankers got a taste of how some of today's players are gearing up for the future. One, J.D. "Denny" Carreker, announced a name change for his Dallas-based consulting company. The firm is now called the Carreker Group.
Formerly known as J.D. Carreker and Associates, the firm plays several key roles in payments systems.
Mr. Carreker's firm manages the Electronic Check Clearing House Organization, a national clearing house that establishes rules and formats for electronic check presentment; and the Payment Systems Network Inc., a bank-run communications network for electronic check processing.
The name change reflects the firm's efforts to begin helping banks develop an electronic commerce infrastructure.
Mr. Carreker's prescription for the banking industry calls for integration of not only different product development groups with banks, but also for the melding of common business practices among bank customers, including hospitals, insurance companies, suppliers and manufacturers.
Banks often employ electronic check processing, imaging, and electronic data interchange systems independent of one another. The walls between these systems need to be knocked down to "get to this mosaic called electronic commerce five or 10 years down the line."
He also said that as bank technology becomes more commoditized, the differentiating factors among competing banks will center more on the banks' talent.
"The banks that win are the ones that are creative, aggressive, focused, tough, and willing to embrace changes fast," Mr. Carreker said.
Driving down the efficiency ratio may be "wonderful for current earnings, but in a game where you have the strategic challenges (of evolving electronic commerce systems) in front of you, you lose," Mr. Carreker said.
On the imaging technology front, Unisys Corp. and Broadway & Seymour Inc. announced a remarketing agreement for a midrange check-imaging system.
Unisys will remarket Broadway & Seymour's VisualImpact software, which can process up to one million items a day.
Officials said the deal was struck because Unisys was having trouble scaling down its own high-speed imaging hardware and software to meet growing demand among community banks. It also represents a good fit between the two companies new distribution channel.
"The focus up until about the last year seemed to be on proof of deposit," said Jesse Rogers, a senior consultant with Broadway & Seymour.
But he said larger banks are looking at specific revenue generating areas, such as treasury services.
"A lot of bankers are realizing how much image is going to change their operations,," Mr. Rogers said. "Banks are not as willing to go through that kind of upheaval."
Also at the show, FinancialWare Inc., Indianapolis, unveiled item processing software for community banks that officials said is "host and sorter independent."
"This is the first imaging system that is truly an open system," said company president Charles G. Myers.
"It lets you tie in all of your scattered data systems together into a single, usable Windows data base and networking format," he said.
Sterling Commerce Inc., Dallas, announced a type of positive-pay software for banks to help them spot fraudulent items at the point of presentment.
The software, called Vector Detect, checks banks' on-us items against a customer's account history.
The software uses data from the bank deposit system to check for anomalies, duplicate check numbers, and uncharacteristically high dollar amounts.
ImageScan Inc., Lanham, Md., added a float management module to its wholesale lockbox system that helps banks with daily information reporting services.
The system lets bankers improve the way they calculate the availability of deposits from each lockbox customer.