A newly created position at Wachovia Corp. has put a 22-year bank veteran in a payments hot seat.

Janet W. Smith, 46, has been promoted to executive vice president and manager of payments systems strategies, a title that reflects payments' growing importance and increasing complexity.

Ms. Smith will coordinate both retail and wholesale payment strategies for the $65 billion-asset superregional bank.

"This move by Wachovia is an attempt to solve what has been a persistent problem at most banks, which is to coordinate a typically fragmented payment systems strategy," said Edward Furash, chairman of Washington-based Furash & Co.

Encompassing product lines ranging from checks, credit and debit cards, and automated teller machines to automated clearing house transactions and wire transfers, payments businesses are typically distributed among distinct areas of banks. That creates a risk of redundant or even conflicting strategies within a single organization.

Technology advances have made coordination more critical, experts say. Electronic bill presentment, for example, touches both retail and corporate customers, who are served by departments that historically did not talk to each other.

Similarly, the automated clearing house, traditionally used for small and recurring retail payments, is increasingly being used for business transactions.

"Banks have to lick this problem in order to truly compete in payment systems," Mr. Furash said.

A 1994 study conducted by his company for the Bankers Roundtable found that payment-related conflicts, confusion, and lack of coordination were obstacles in competing against nonbanks.

Ms. Smith agreed that many nonbanks covet a share of the banking industry's payments business. Payment services generated $90 billion in revenue for banks in 1996, according to a study last year commissioned by the Bank Administration Institute.

Ms. Smith said she would treat Wachovia's myriad payments resources as a unit, in an effort to strengthen the bank's defenses against encroaching competitors.

"I am trying to bring a managerial and operational groundwork that is needed to look at it (payments) as a business," she said.

Ms. Smith intends to establish a payments system council that will meet regularly to exchange ideas and mediate "delicate matters" as they arise.

"It's one of the hardest jobs I have ever had," she said. "I could probably create some frustration for people."

Ms. Smith has expressed intriguing ideas in the past, said Michael Starr, executive vice president of regional branch banking and formerly an executive with Wachovia's treasury services unit.

Even though payments people "have very strong opinions," Mr. Starr said, "I don't think she will make enemies. She is very easy to communicate with, so I think she will create some very good dialogue within the organization."

Ms. Smith reports to Wachovia senior executive vice president Walter Leonard, who reports to president and chief executive officer Leslie M. "Bud" Baker Jr.

Ms. Smith started her career at the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based bank in computer programming and systems development. Her most recent position was as senior vice president of consumer financial services.

Mr. Furash said he didn't envy her difficult new assignment, though he said the job could make her "one of the most effective people in the organization."

"This is a very challenging job at every bank," Mr. Furash said. "It isn't designed to make you loved."

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