If bankers minded playing second fiddle to technologists these last few days at the Retail Delivery '96 conference, they didn't show it.
Many reacted enthusiastically to an Intel Corp. demonstration Thursday showing how bank customers could video-conference with tellers over the Internet.
Others were taken with the showing Wednesday of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s "thin" and cheap JavaStation network computer, and with Sun chief executive officer Scott McNealy's lighthearted razzing of rival Microsoft Corp.
Mr. McNealy and Intel executive vice president Frank Gill had keynote- type slots at the gathering. The prominence given speakers from technology companies is part of what sets the Bank Administration Institute meeting apart from others in the banking business. That and the record crowd estimated at more than 7,000.
For the video-conference connection at the Dallas Convention Center Arena, an official of U.S. Bancorp stood beside Mr. Gill and used a computer to connect to a teller in Portland, Ore.
Smiling from the monitor as Mr. Gill requested an address change, the teller transmitted the new information to Mr. Gill's screen for confirmation. Noting that he had a certificate of deposit that would soon mature, she also asked him if he wanted to upgrade to a CD with a higher interest rate.
Community bankers, who place a premium on personal contact, were impressed by the Intel system, called ProShare.
"You can continue with the personal approach to banking without being face-to-face," said Robert Critchfield, senior vice president of Citizens Bank in Flint, Mich. "I wish I could turn it on at our bank today."
"You can really let your mind wander" about the possibilities of the technology, said John T. Franey of Firstar Corp., Milwaukee. "No one will question whether we utilize this technology. It is only a question of when."
Noting many community banks have been slow to move onto the Internet out of fear of damaging their ability to personalize, San Antonio banking consultant Brent M. Ratan said, "Things like this really blow the community banker's mind. It helps them to keep their advantage."
During his presentation, Mr. Gill noted that microprocessors are expected to double in power every 18 months, with corresponding declines in cost. This soon will let consumers experience three-dimensional product simulations and full-motion video via PC, he said.
Mr. McNealy seemed unimpressed with the talk of computer horsepower. He evangelized relentlessly on behalf of the network computer, a diskless version of the desktop PC that relies on computer networks, such as the Internet, for computing power and access to data bases.
Mr. McNealy kicked off his presentation with a professionally produced takeoff on Apple Computer's "1984" television commercial. In it, brainwashed Microserfs are controlled by a large-screen display of Big Brother Bill (read Gates, chairman of Microsoft), who exhorts his subjects to"upgrade, upgrade, upgrade."
He advised bankers to stop buying mainframe computers and to reject Microsoft-style software upgrades. By using network computers that are linked to a central computer server, Sun believes banks can dramatically cut computing and maintenance costs. Sun derives the bulk of its revenues from the sale of servers.