TO HEAR DICK GRIFFITHS tell it, one of the simplest decisions in the past year was figuring out how to combine the currency trading systems of BankAmerica Corp. and Security Pacific Corp..
"This was really one of the easiest decisions of the merger," Mr. Griffiths said after the conversion of the two banks' currency trading operations into a single system.
It was easy because BankAmerica stand to quickly improve its foreign exchange trading technology at little cost. The bank will accomplish this by marrying Security Pacific's system for entering trades with Bank of America's settlement software, in one of the relatively few instances where a Security Pacific system was retained over one that was used by the acquiring bank.
For years, each bank had its own version of this type of software. But Security Pacific's trade entry system was light years ahead of BankAmerica's, according to Mr. Griffiths.
Now that the merger is complete, Bank America is eager to use the better trade entry system in the combined institution.
"I don't think the traders could ask for very much more," said Yale Fisher, senior vice president of BankAmerica's currency and options trading.
The move is important because it affects a lucrative business that is highly dependent on computerization.
BankAmerica and Security Pacific reported a combined $301 million of foreign exchange trading revenue last year, a total that would have made them the second-largest U.S. bank in the market after Citicorp.
While foreign exchange trading represented less than 1% of the two banks' noninterest revenue, banks that do well in this area can pull in profits of 40% to 50%.
New systems, like the Security Pacific trade entry software, can deliver millions of dollars to a bank's bottom line by helping traders manage risk better and spot opportunities sooner.
"Global FX markets are extremely competitive ... any sort of technology support you can get is of tremendous value," said Derek Bowden, trading systems specialist with AGS Information Services Inc., a New York consulting unit of Nynex Corp.
According to Mr. Griffiths, the Security Pacific trade entry software, called Trader II, is better than the trade entry software BankAmerica developed because it is easier to use and delivers more information to traders' fingertips.
With the Security Pacific software, traders move a mouselike device, called a "bombsight," over a pad with letters, numbers, and commands like "buy" and "sell."
The bombsight has a clear window, with cross hairs like those on a high-powered rifle. A trader positions the cross over a command, number, or letter on the pad, clicks a button, and a trade is quickly recorded on the trader's computer.
The computer sends the trade information into a central data base, from which a trader's profitability is calculated, along with information about his position and limits.
The trade is also sent to the BankAmerica trade settlement software, which makes sure both sides of a deal exchange funds as agreed.
By contrast, BankAmerica's trade entry software was so hard to use that traders didn't even enter trades via computer, Mr. Griffiths said. Instead, they dictated trades to assistants who wrote them down on so-called blotters. Data entry specialists then manually entered the trades into BankAmerica's settlement systems.
The problems with this approach are that data entry errors are numerous and traders don't get up-to-date information about their profits, positions, and limits. the transition to Trader II enables BankAmerica to overcome a technology shortfall that for years left it a step or two behind competitors.
In the mid-1980s, many banks began attacking the sloppy paperwork in trading rooms by developing systems like Trader II. Mr. Bowden of AGS said these systems are now common in the industry. Among the best were Trader II and a similar system developed by Bankers Trust New York Corp. Both banks sell these trade entry systems to other institutions.
BankAmerica's system was in the middle of the pack at best, observers said. Now, the bank can move to the forefront. Mr. Griffiths said Bank of America would have taken a year to 18 months to upgrade its own software to the level of Trader II at a cost of millions dollars.
"They had already gotten to where we were going," said Mr. Griffiths.
Bank of America traders love the new software.
"It's really fabulous," said George Vafiadou, a BankAmerica vice president and currency trader, originally from Security Pacific, who has used the bank's trade entry software for years.
Before they had the software, currency traders often couldn't leave the office till 7 or 8 p.m. because they had to sort out a mountain of data entry errors.
Mr. Vafiadou added at the Trader II software helps traders avoid unnecessary risks by keeping closer tabs on their currency positions and limits.
Mr. Griffiths said the installation of Trader II was relatively easy. He estimated that the bank will spend just over $1 million to install the system for all its 250 traders, including software development.
BankAmerica was able to get Trader II up and running in the banks' new Los Angeles trading room within three days of the completion of the merger.
Trader II was brought up on BankAmerica's New York trading floor over the summer, and is scheduled to come up on the San Francisco trading floor by early fall. BankAmerica plans to have Trader II on most of its 27 trading floors around the world within a year.
At a Glance
BankAmerica Corp. Headquarters: San Francisco Assets: $188 billion Employees: 90,000 Non-interest revenue(*): $4.6 billion Foreign Exchange trading revenue(*): $301 million (*) 1991 combined total for BankAmerica and Security Pacific Corp.