Community bankers attending the Microbanker '97 conference this week expressed concern about their ability to keep up with technological change.

"It looks a little overwhelming these days, so we're trying to get a little information to make intelligent decisions," said John O. Manning, president of $80 million-asset Community First Bank of Keosauqua, Iowa. "We don't want to spend scarce resources in a foolish way."

Karen M. Sharp, senior vice president and chief financial officer of First State Bank in Key West, Fla., said, "Things move so fast, it's easy to get behind."

The conference's keynote speaker, Diane M. Casey of Washington-based Grant Thornton, said that community bankers understand the central role technology plays in banking. Over 90% of those responding to a recent Grant Thornton survey said how they deploy technology is an important part of whether they will be successful.

However, Ms. Casey said few community banks are following through on their plans to upgrade.

For instance, in a study three years ago, 68% of community banks said they expected to offer PC banking in the next few years, Ms. Casey said.

But only about 5% now offer such services.

Several bankers said they are taking steps to improve their use of technology.

First State Bank, which has $247 million of assets, is exploring offering banking over the Internet. Community First, meanwhile, is looking into the benefits of client/server-based systems.

But banks need help turning such planning into action, said Nancy Davis, publisher of Microbanker.

"Banks recognize technology is critical to survival, but they are not devoting enough budget and planning to it," she said.

Technology has long been viewed as a way for community banks to compete more effectively with larger rivals.

However, because of the limited resources available to community banks, they have little margin for errors in judgment. This, in part, explains why many are so careful about putting plans into action.

"We do have a commitment to technology," said David L. Henricksen, executive vice president of Douglas County Bank and Trust Co. and Bank of Bellevue, two Nebraska banks with $430 million of combined assets. But "we don't just jump on the ship," he said.

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