Japan's banks fuse high-tech, high finance

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Japanese banks and securities companies are putting their country's high-technology know-how to work in a bid for a major stake in the highly competitive international financial markets.

No longer is it enough to recruit people who are ''good with figures'' - the emphasis now is on communications and computer engineers and software specialists. Within Japan, home banking now is moving close to reality, and home brokerage is on the horizon.

The financial services industry is also working closely with the Japanese International Telecommunications Authority to extend the information and services network worldwide.

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''Steep falls in prices of computers and office automation devices, liberalization of the commercial use of telephone lines, and the big advances in optical and digital telecommunications devices will revolutionize accounting procedures and the general financial activities of both major corporations and individuals,'' predicts Hajime Yamada, president of the powerful Mitsubishi Bank.

''There will be drastic changes in the course of cash flow and the concentration of funds. And the key to success will be the quality of data processing and asset-management services offered.''

Automated banking is now widely accepted in Japan. Account settlements between manufacturers and retailers via telephone lines and bank computers is a major growth area. Using voice-recognition technology, customers of some banks can telephone the computer for details of their account, which the machine supplies in a synthesized voice.

A breakthrough for the concept of home banking will be the start this year of the Captain videotex service developed by the domestic Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation to feed a wide range of information into individual homes via telephone lines and television.

As with similar systems in the United States and Europe, the public will be able to use computer terminals to feed in information. Banks and securities houses are eager to tap this network to broaden their customer base and expand their services. To take full advantage of it there has been a rapid expansion of the research and data-processing functions within the financial industry.

One of the most advanced systems is Capital (standing for computer-aided portfolio and investment total analysis), developed by the leading brokerage house, Nomura Securities. The system began domestically in 1982 and went international a year later. It offers potential investors a wide range of constantly updated data on all Japanese capital markets and analyses of the economies and top-rated companies of other countries in the prospering Pacific Basin, such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. Clients also may use their computer terminals to create various scenarios for investment decisions.

Nomura has a separate company developing computer services, and its managing director, Toshiharu Takatsuki, explains: ''The basic philosophy is to develop our consultation power, to open up a two-way flow of information, and (to) encourage more and more people to enter the market.''

Providing information is merely the first stage, Mr. Takatsuki says, and ultimately the system will be linked to the brokerage process. Domestic clients with the necessary equipment before long will be able to call up data, make their investment decisions, and place stock and bond purchase orders from their armchairs.

Extension of this concept to international operations will take longer, Mr. Takatsuki explained. However, as a first step, Nomura clients in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bahrain can take advantage of a relatively small time difference to conduct business via computers directly with the trading floor of the Tokyo Stock Exchange..

Other securities houses like Yamaichi, Nikko, and Daiwa are developing similar on-line data-processing systems domestically and to some extent internationally, backed in most cases by expansion of the research capability of separate think tanks. Banks, too, are moving more and more into the information services field, taking advantage of the evolution of communications systems.

The firms involved are motivated by two major considerations. First, from a business point of view, there is a need to stay competitive in an era of rapid technological change. Second is a need to cope with sociological change. Those familiar with the industry forecast a strong market for home/business services as Japan, with other advanced countries, moves rapidly in the next few decades into a predominantly older society.

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