New Age pseudo-science or a new way to find the perfect cashier? Whichever, a growing number of bankers are using handwriting analysis - graphology - to judge personnel and predict personality and job-related behavior.

"We swear by it," said Sharon Stockham, the human resources director at $645 million-asset Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa, Calif. "It really works."

The bank uses graphology not only to screen job candidates but to build teamwork, counsel employees, and do career planning and staff development.

Driven by today's hyper- competitive market, bankers are turning to such nontraditional tools to help improve their personnel decisions.

"We find it amazingly accurate," says Nancy Sheppard, executive director of the Western Independent Bankers, a trade group that uses the technique. Graphology providers say some users cite a 75% to 85% reduction in turnover since incorporating handwriting analysis into their hiring processes.

The leading business provider of personality profiles developed from an analysis of handwriting samples is Phoenix-based Handwriting Research Corp., which developed a computerized model from 50,000 writing samples collected over a dozen years.

The firm's banking clients include Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, and members of Michigan League of Savings Institutions.

Nonetheless, Ms. Stockham said her bank's executives have ignored negative indications in HRC's analysis only a few times. In those cases, they'd been swayed by the candidate's top-notch credentials and impressive interviews. Without exception, they later regretted the decision. "It's not an inexpensive tool," she said, "but bad hires are much more costly."

Ms. Semas is a freelance writer in San Jose, Calif.

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At least one banker is participating in the Olympics this summer - sort of. John Zimomra will carry the Olympic flame for about a half-mile on June 10 in Ashtabula County, Ohio, on its journey to the games, which begin in July.

Mr. Zimomra, a vice president in the trust department of $833 million- asset Second National Bank, Warren, is one of 5,550 torchbearers nationwide. He was nominated by a co-worker. - Barbara F. Bronstien

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