Community bankers have seen their future, and it has a lot to do with using technology to cater to younger customers.
"The next generation wants quick, convenient banking on a 24-hour basis," said Sue Anderson, executive vice president of the Community Bankers Association of Kansas.
She was in town last week for FutureBank '98, this year's edition of an annual equipment show, where about a dozen bankers had designed a model community bank for the next century, featuring iris-scanning automated teller machines and automated loan kiosks.
The bank had an open floor plan to encourage movement and flexibility. The teller line in the lobby's center served as a focal point, and behind it stood a wall of television screens flashing the latest news and weather.
From the teller line, customers could fan out to different offices, which were set apart by movable cloth cubicle panels equipped with electrical outlets and telephone jacks.
"The buzzwords in office design are ergonomics and churn-moving people around," said Rich Fenske, whose company, Rainen Business Interiors in North Kansas City, Mo., designed the interior.
The trade show drew representatives from 400 banks and 315 vendors. But some officers said the model-which also included a gourmet coffee bar, an Internet banking center, and state-of-the-art check processing-won't play well on Main Street.
"It's more of a concept for a metropolitan-area bank," said Thos R. Lee, president of $76 million-asset Union State Bank in rural Clay Center, Kan.
Though much of the new technology is designed to help bankers do their jobs, other advances may put some out of work. The computerized loan processing kiosk, created by Axxessa Inc. of Minneapolis, prompts customers through a loan application, much like a loan officer would.
TeleProfessional, a voice-recognition telephone system, may eliminate the need for lenders to repeatedly answer complicated verbal questions, such as quoting rates and defining terms.
Manufactured by Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa., TeleProfessional can hold a conversation with the customer and process spoken information, eliminating the need to press numbers on the keypad to get specific information.
To boost cross-selling, employees' computers can be programmed with software that analyzes customers' accounts and prompts bankers to pitch products that are a good fit.
The Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota started the FutureBank trade show in 1994. (FutureBank '99 will be held in Minneapolis.)
Allen I. Olson, that group's president and chief executive officer, said it is important for community bankers to stay up on technology, even if some of its prices are out of their reach.
For example, Axxessa's automated loan kiosk costs between $15,000 and $25,000. The NCR Corp. ATM that uses eye scans for customer identification goes as high as $35,000, not including cameras and software.
"The large banks are going to have this technology first, but the small banks need to know what's coming," Mr. Olson said.
The community bankers who did the prototype design were all from Kansas or Minnesota. They determined which kinds of products should be displayed, and Community Banks Services Corp.-a for-profit arm of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota-matched 14 vendors to the bankers' product wish list.
"It's a very subjective process, but it gets at what the community bankers believe will be most important in the future," Mr. Olson said.
The most popular exhibit among the bankers was the future bank's coffee bar, with Starbucks coffee and flavored syrups. Attendees did not need a lengthy demonstration to pump java; the hospitable setup encouraged them to stand around and chat-a community banking tradition.
The bankers in attendance were typically unsure if the technology will fly in their towns.
Julie Larson, vice president of North Shore Bank of Commerce in Duluth, Minn., said some of her customers would not be ready for something like the loan kiosk.
"They still want all of that touchy, feely stuff," she said. "They want to come in and talk to their banker."
Still, the bankers saw enough importance in technology to want to attend the show.
"You have to be moving in this direction no matter what your size," said Mike Byrne, president of $62 million-asset State Bank of Long Lake, Minn. "Banks that don't innovate won't be around."