Tech Without Tellers

The video conferencing suite at Generations Bank’s smart office in Farmington, N.Y.
The video conferencing suite at Generations Bank’s smart office in Farmington, N.Y.

A New York community bank is deploying ‘smart offices’ without tellers to focus on relationships

By Kathryn Jackson Fallon

Welcome to the Generations Bank “smart office” in Farmington, N.Y. Step inside, help yourself to a fresh-brewed cup of coffee, and relax near the fireplace in a comfortable chair complete with a tablet-arm work desk. Get comfortable for your face-to-face meeting with one of the bank’s employees. The bank’s representative might be more than 50 miles away and you’ll talk over computer screens, but the meeting will be as unhurried and productive as if you were both in the same room.

Generations Bank’s President and CEO Menzo Case believes the model for banking has changed dramatically over the years. People are so comfortable now with Internet banking, mobile banking and remote deposit capture that they’re beginning to demand these service options, he says. But customers still value human contact.

“We’re finding that customers are looking to have that one-on-one discussion with individuals,” Case says, “but more to troubleshoot or to receive advice or receive a service that’s not directly banker related, such as insurance or financial planning or brokerage.”

So Generations Bank, a $277 million-asset community bank with 97 employees, headquartered in Seneca Falls, N.Y., opened its smart office in October. During regular business hours, customers can sit down in the smart office and get assistance from a representative in any of the bank’s nine other locations.

“That’s the beauty of technology today,” says Case.

“It’s a banking office that’s fully embracing technology.”
—Menzo Case, Generations Bank

Here is how the smart office would work with a meeting with “George,” one of the bank’s brokers in another branch: An employee takes the customer to the smart office and sets up the conferencing options. Once the off-site broker is on-screen, the employee can leave, and the customer and the broker can have a private conversation and take care of business.

The customer in Farmington can view two screens. On one screen is George and on the other screen is the computer screen that he has in his office, so he can show the customer whatever information he has directly. He can also print to the customer’s location if she wants a prospectus for an investment option. The customer can also scan and send documents directly to George.

If the customer is in a hurry and just wants to take care of a simple transaction, she can just use one of the branch’s interactive teller machines. A branch employee can also take care of that for her.

Although the Farmington branch has the smart office, you won’t find any tellers there or at any of Generations Bank’s locations. “We got rid of tellers,” Case explains. “We have bankers.” The idea for the change is to have personal bankers sit down with customers and build relationships, forgoing the teller line.

Generations Bank figured that if it could eliminate the teller line, customers could still complete the more everyday transactions quickly through automated service kiosks. As a result, the Farmington branch has five interactive teller machines, if needed, that can handle the transactions customers would usually take care of at a teller station: deposits, withdrawals, loan payments. And the interactive teller machines have been well received, with one customer saying they were different but easy to use.

“As much as banks talk this idea that they develop relationships at the teller line,” Case adds, “it’s not as deep and as rich and complete as sitting down with somebody over a cup of coffee. It is also a way to make the customer feel that the bank is not just trying to make a sale.”

Case believes that when customers feel welcome and comfortable enough to have banking conversations with the bank’s employees, or just to have a cup of coffee and talk, the business will follow. “Our customers and our communities really want to sit down with us and continue relationships that we formed with our families over years and years and years and years.”

Case’s advice for any community bank thinking of implementing the smart office option? “You need to have the desire to make it work, that’s number one,” he says. That and a commitment to installing the infrastructure, which is not cheap. “These aren’t $20 phones.” And having stellar technical support is a must.

Generations Bank is committed to its smart office retail deliver approach and plans to have these options in all of its 10 retail locations. “It’s a banking office that’s fully embracing technology,” Case says.

Kathryn Jackson Fallon is a freelance writer in New York.