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Latest wave of banking automation to be introduced here in two years.

Canada's chartered banks are embracing automation with a blank cheque.

Technology has entered the banking industry, and the banks must move with the times, says Jim Bradley, the manager of the Royal Bank's Northern Ontario Corporate Banking Centre in Sudbury.

"We're dealing not just in Northern Ontario, but in a world economic environment, whether we like it or not," Bradley says. "The fact is things happen on the world stage that impact on your business."

The industry was not always this complex or competitive. At one time banks were banks and trust companies were trust companies.

In the past 15 years, however, technology developed and the big push in automation began. The waters were further muddied when trust companies added services and foreign banks started attracting more Canadian customers.

At the local level automation became a means of preventing local bank branches from drowning in paperwork, says Wayne Weber, the vice-president of the Bank of Montreal's Northern Ontario division.

It has also helped improve customer service. For example, Weber notes that automation made it possible to offer daily interest savings accounts.

"A lot of this technology is designed to improve the quality of service to our clients," add Bradley.

He notes that services such as automatic payroll and deposit plans and toll-free telephone numbers for loan and mortgage approvals have been made possible by automation.

Bradley says customer service has also improved because the use of automation releases bank staff from the drudgery of paperwork. For example, he says it has made it possible for the Royal to dedicate three or four officers in each of its Sudbury branches to serving senior citizens.

"We're approaching automation, not necessarily to reduce employees," says Weber. "(With automation) we're able to bring more employees out of the back rooms to better service the customer."

The Bank of Montreal has 15 automated banking machines in Northern Ontario from North Bay to Dryden and it plans to add several more this year.

According to Weber, these machines have helped former bank tellers become customer service representatives who handle a broader range of financial transactions.

The latest rage in automation is the debit card. It is a joint effort between Canada's nine major banks, caisse populaires and trust companies.

Simply put, the debit card is an extension of today's convenience card which will one day replace the need to carry cash.

When a consumer uses a debit card, the cost of the item is automatically deducted from the consumer's bank account and deposited into the store's account. No money changes hands.

The debit card made its debut last year in Ottawa-Hull, and the response surpassed all expectations. The card is currently scheduled to be introduced next fall in British Columbia and Quebec. It's not expected to be available in Northern Ontario until the summer of 1994, says Greg Waters, the planning and market development manager of the Royal Bank in Sudbury.

The card is being introduced first in provinces with smaller populations than Ontario (although the Atlantic provinces won't see the card until 1994 either). This way any glitches in the system can be corrected before the scheduled launch in Ontario, says Waters.

Consumer groups who are concerned about the card fear that it will one day replace the credit card. Objecting to the idea of paying a service charge for each transaction, they also see the debit card as a means for banks to charge additional fees while reducing the cost of handling cash.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Young, Laura E.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:No recovery for Northern Ontario in 1992.
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