Q: How will your branch network be different in five years? John E. Smith, Executive VP, retail banking, Hibernia Corp. New Orleans

Generally, most banks are going to look different in five years, and Hibernia is no exception. The banking consumer will continue to see more automation of transaction services as well as more emphasis on needs-based selling of all financial service products. The average banking office will offer more self-service capabilities for transaction processing and will be staffed by highly skilled sales professionals. The number of "full-service" banking locations will decline. However, there will be many more convenient points of sale and/or service than exists today.

That means more full-service automated teller machines, automated kiosks, drive-up banking, telebanking, etc. Branch staffing requirements will change significantly, both in the number of staff required for each location and in the necessary skill level of the employee. The end result will be a more profitable and cost-efficient sales and service delivery network that is better positioned to meet the changing needs of the consumer.

The changes that occur over the next five to 10 years will not be driven entirely by the industry's effort to cut costs, although that is certainly a benefit of the technology that now exists. Most of the change is being dictated by the consumer. Ben F. Williams Jr. Executive VP, retail group, Columbus Bank and Trust Co. Columbus, Ga.

In five years, our branches will look like they do today, in most respects. We still expect to have the same approximate level of lobby and drive-in traffic. The growth in new branches will slow as we develop alternative delivery systems for customers who wish to conduct banking via telephone, smart phone, personal computer, and ATM.

We are primarily a community bank, and I believe we will continue to have a majority of our customers who want to conduct business like they have all along. The numbers are actually moving more toward higher usage of ATMs and the other alternative delivery systems. We are not anticipating closing branches, but the growth should flatten out, if not decrease slightly. So staffing requirements will remain fairly static.

We are going to continue to use the same methods in determining branch profitability, emphasizing the need to continue our sales of profitable products. As we evolve, we hope to get more sophisticated in the way we are able to measure profitability by identifying and allocating costs more effectively. David Thomas Director, retail banking, Bank One Texas Dallas The overall number of banking centers for Bank One Texas will increase over the next five years. We are still working on filling in our distribution system from the former unit banking environment that existed in Texas for many years.

There is no set growth pattern that we would expect to see in those five years. It would vary by the market in which we operate given the capacity of the network to cover the market's needs. A number of our locations will change in each market, depending upon the need of the particular market.

Our staffing levels are likely to decrease, even though the number of locations would increase. We will be moving away from the larger types of banking centers like we have currently in Texas.

We are going to continue to work with our customers to make them aware of alternative means of handling transactions - via telephone, ATM, debit cards, and eventually home banking. As more routine transactions are done outside the banking center, it allows us to build smaller facilities where the staff can focus more on sales and delivery of product. Alex O. Romero Executive VP, retail banking, Sunwest Bank of Albuquerque Albuquerque

Given the projected population growth in the geographic area of New Mexico, we still want a traditional banking presence in three or four additional communities into the year 2000. Our banks are spread out in New Mexico, with lots of open space between communities. As the demographics in the Southwest change, I can see Sunwest consolidating some branches as we are able to deliver services via self-service centers in higher-traffic areas, such as shopping malls.

We will continue to position ourselves as a community bank in the smaller communities we serve. We want the community to feel that there are people at our bank who can cater to their needs, and that we are an integral part of that community.

Technology has been readily accepted in this part of the country: We had ATMs doing 9,000 transactions a month back to 1978. In this part of the world, people are highly mobile, commuting by car - they cannot live without one. So we cater to the driver by installing drive-through ATMs. In addition, we take the bank to larger employers like hospitals, etc., via ATM installations in order to provide convenience. There are other companies who require more banking convenience for their employees.

- Compiled by Dominick Fontana

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