Sept252013-bogCitizens Bank takes ATM technology to next level

By Brian Brus
Oklahoma City reporter – Journal Record Online
September 23, 2013

EDMOND – When Citizens Bank of Edmond recently divested three of its area branches, Executive Vice President Jill Castilla started looking for ways to maintain connections with customers who were used to chatting with tellers.

The answer was as simple as taking a smartphone video or holding an online Skype conference, Castilla said. Technology could bring tellers and customers together with two-way cameras, and already-established ATMs seemed the most natural meeting sites. The challenge was in how to implement the technology of a virtual drive-thru teller window without rebuilding the automated teller machines from scratch.

The closest option is being developed for Bank of America with a rollout expected by the end of the year, she said. No commercial solutions were at hand for smaller, community banks.

So the Edmond reached out to Monscierge, an Oklahoma-based company that designs touch-screen concierge kiosk services for hotel lobbies, and Order-Matic Corp., which has been involved with Sonic Drive-In restaurant’s carhop technology development.

“The three of us were able to collaborate on a solution for community banks not currently being met by financial services and technology providers,” she said. “And not only would it work for us, but it might also work for other institutions about our size.”

Castilla said the first video-enhanced ATM will be unveiled by the end of October, and at least two others will follow within a month. In order to fit the technology in the visual space of a typical car window, the companies settled on a gate design that swings a small screen to the customer if face-to-face communication is necessary.

Earlier this year after the sale of three Citizens Bank’s properties to RCB Bank, Castilla said the popularity of mobile and online banking options had reduced customer traffic at the satellite locations. It was more efficient to redirect financial assets from physical locations to technology and increased lending, she said then. The ATM virtual teller concept developed from that position.

That a community bank even bothered to develop the concept speaks to the persistent need for human interaction instead of a full substitution of technology, American Banking Association spokesman John Hall said.

Nationwide, the number of bank-operated ATMs has remained stable while machines owned by independent service operators are on the decline, implying that bank customers still expect some level of personal service even though society is shifting away from cash transactions.

“Banks are looking for every way they can to be high-tech without losing the human touch, particularly community banks,” Hall said. “Whether it’s mobile technology on smartphones or online banking or ATM technology enhancements, you’ll see more and more of that effort.

“Any enhancement that banks have embraced over the last 40 years hasn’t replaced anything – debit cards have not replaced cash; ATMs have not replaced tellers; online banking did not replace branches,” he said.

Actually, advancements in ATM technology have redefined traditional bank-branching strategies, industry consultant Trent Fleming said from his office in Memphis, Tenn. Machines are now capable of processing check and cash deposits and moving funds between accounts; the addition of video conferencing with a live teller is enough to cause some banks to reconsider putting money into large buildings.

“All the hype in 1975 and ’76 when all the ATMs came out was that they would replace tellers,” he said. “We’ve come a long way since then. … This interactive video is a bigger strategy. Customers are choosing electronic or remote delivery channels. But when they have an issue or need more support, we’ve got to provide that service on a platform they’re comfortable with.”

Fleming said he’s not ready to advocate 24-hour teller service yet, but consumers do tend to expect improvements in one industry to bleed into others sooner or later. He also said it would be a huge mistake for a community bank to outsource teller services to employees in another market or out of the country. Castilla said Citizens Bank of Edmond will remain an Edmond bank no matter where its ATM video screens end up, she said.