Community bank executives expect emerging technologies to have more impact on the how bank employees work than on how customers do business with their banks, a survey found.

The American Bankers Association survey of 579 financial institutions with $500 million or less in assets showed that the technologies deemed "very likely" to become common fixtures in banking over the next five years are mostly tools to improve operational efficiency.

These, include, optical storage of files, electronic mail, and image file-folder applications.

Consumer Products

By contrast, new products for customers, such as home banking via personal computer and multimedia customer-service kiosks, are viewed by close to half the responding group as "not likely" to become common by 1998

Experts said the findings may be more an exercise in wishful thinking than an accurate indication of the true future of the technologies.

Community banks, because of their limited capital, do not typically lead the way on emerging products.

Check Image Statement

A notable exception to this is the check image statement, which frees banks from having to return canceled checks to customers by replacing the actual items with miniature pictures of the checks.

A handful of large banks may have pioneered image statements, but community banks have made the technology an accepted product in the banking industry by quickly embracing it when it became available.

In many markets, community banks are the only financial institutions offering the statements.

Community bankers offer this as proof that they are interested in being cutting edge when they can afford it.

Service Emphasized

Image statements notwithstanding, the fact that community bankers have focused their technical energies on operational rather than product-related projects is not surprising, experts said.

Community bankers have long maintained that the way to retain customers in the face of increasing large bank competition is to provide personal service with which big banks cannot compete.

Technologies such as image file folders and electronic mail presumably improve a community bank employee's ability to serve the customer, and are thus more in line with their primary business objective than, for example, a self-service terminal.

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