A virtual face to face

Personal service meets technology: How Gorham Savings Bank’s interactive teller machines are connecting with customers.

By Ed Avis

Kevin Heatley, director of technology at Gorham Savings Bank in Gorham, Maine, has a colorful way of describing his bank’s interactive teller machines: the offspring of a union between an ATM and Skype.

“We call the machines ITMs, not ATMs, because they’re truly interactive,” says Heatley, who has helped the $1 billion-asset bank install four of the machines since 2015. “They can do 95 percent of what a teller can do.”

An ITM looks like an ATM, but when you touch the screen, you’re immediately connected to a live teller in Gorham Bank’s Customer Service Center. Using webcams, the teller and the customer can see each other and conduct business in nearly the same way they would have in a branch.

“Almost anything you can do at a teller, you can do there,” Heatley says

The ITMs, which are made by NCR and cost about $80,000 each, connect to workstations at the Customer Service Center. “When a customer presses the screen, it opens a video call with one of our tellers,” Heatley explains. “They answer the call and the customer shows up on the screen. You look at each other and talk to each other. The teller asks, ‘What are you looking to do today?’”

If the customer wants to deposit a check, the teller remotely opens a slot on the machine to accept the check. The machine scans the check and presents an image to the teller, who then asks the customer what account they want to put it in. The teller accesses the bank’s core-processing system and completes the transaction.

Convenience first
“The nice thing is you don’t need your debit card as you would with an ATM,” says Kathi Kalicky, Gorham Savings’ vice president of deposit operations. “The teller identifies the customer the way she would if the customer was in the teller line. She might ask for date of birth, and the machine can also scan a driver’s license and present it to the teller.

Customers can make deposits or withdrawals, cash checks, make payments, and ask general account questions at the ITM. However, the machines cannot open new accounts, and they are not designed for business customers, usually due to a larger volume of checks and cash. For example, they do not provide rolled coins, and depositing a large quantity of checks is unwieldy. But small businesses can successfully use this technology.

One advantage of the ITM is that the bank can provide a face-to-face experience without having to place a teller in that location, saving staffing costs and providing extended hours with a minimum staff located in the operations center. The bank’s four ITMs are served by three teller workstations in the Customer Service Center. A single teller can watch the three stations; if customers approach more than one machine at once, the teller can quickly signal for backup.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, there is no delay, even with multiple people coming to the machines,” Kalicky says. “If all three monitors in the Customer Service Center are occupied and a fourth customer comes up, they get a message that says, ‘Waiting for the next available teller.’”

The ITMs also help the bank service customers after hours. The ITMs are open until 6 p.m. on weekdays, which is two hours longer than the regular bank hours on Monday through Thursday and one hour longer than regular Friday hours. The ITMs and the regular bank hours are 7:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

“Customers really like being able to visit the ITMs on their way home from work,” Heatley notes.

Of the four Gorham Savings Bank ITM locations, the two located in drive-throughs have seen more traffic than the other two, which are designed for walk-up traffic. Heatley says they believe this is because customers expect to find a teller at walk-up locations but are accustomed to using machines in drive-throughs.

“Sometimes the people who come into the branches want to chat with the teller, so the ITM is a harder sell for them,” he says. “But with a drive-through, you’re already used to just throwing money into a tube, getting your receipt, and going. So the ITM works well there. It’s actually a little more interactive than a regular drive-through, because you’re seeing somebody right on the screen.”

Customer education is vital. As each ITM opened, the bank placed someone beside it for about a month to explain how it worked.

“We’ve also had events around the locations to get people to try them,” Heatley says. “For example, at the Portland location, one Saturday we brought in food, gave away prizes, and gave people some money to deposit in the machine, just to get them in the door to use it.”

Looking ahead, Gorham Savings’ leadership is considering installing more ITMs in locations that would benefit from attention but do not warrant an actual teller line, such as within large businesses with lots of potential customers.

“We feel we have a good base with what we have,” Heatley says, “and now we’re checking out the next steps.”

Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.