"Many banks are seeing that through consolidation and downsizing, they can hold the line on systems spending and still invest in technologies that will have a big payoff for the future."

So a technology consultant commented in 1992 on results of American Banker's annual technology in banking survey.

In that study, conducted by Ernst & Young, bankers expressed confidence that moving to client/server networks of personal computers would "improve bank productivity and customer service for little added cost."

How things have changed. Enthusiasm for distributed computing systems remains high - but few are now saying it's a way to save money. As Craig Goldman, chief information officer at Chase Manhattan Corp., noted, "It is not a cheaper alternative" than mainframe-based systems.

The 1995 survey suggests that investments in client/server and other newer technologies must come on top of spending to maintain legacy systems, the level of which is virtually unchanged for two years.

But looking back on the 1992 survey shows how technology priorities have shifted. Then, only 55% of banks reported having a customer information file up and running. Most of the rest said such systems were in the works.

Today, banks have set their sights on even more sophisticated technology, like data warehouses, to extract and use more meaningful information about their customers.

Joseph Delgadillo, president of M&I Data Services in Milwaukee, said, "What's different today than in the past is a lot of the technology being deployed was to help do things faster, better, and cheaper. But there wasn't the tremendous amount of innovation and restructuring that is upon us today, and that we will face in the future."

Bankers' perceptions of change, however, were right on in other areas. In the 1992 survey, bankers predicted that so-called "groupware" would be in widespread use at 32% of all banks. Two studies conducted last year put the actual number at about 30%.

The survey results also show that despite the forces reshaping the industry, change in banking tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Despite the extra dollars committed to client/server technology, for example, some 95% of bankers this year said that such systems will not equal the strength of mainframe before 2002.

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