Lobby Automation

“It’s important to look at your customer and population base and investigate what kind of banking they do.” “It’s important to look at your customer and population base and investigate what kind of banking they do.”

“Smart” teller machines aim to build relationships

By Ed Avis

When Claremont Savings Bank in New Hampshire closed one of its branches last year, bank leaders decided to replace it with a new “technology branch” nearby that featured an important difference: two “smart” teller machines.

“They were intended to replace the teller line in that new location,” says Brenda Reed, senior vice president of retail services for the bank, which has $383 million in assets, with four branches in and near the small town of Claremont, and one in Springfield, Vt. “The idea was that customers would do most of their regular transactions at the machine, which would free up the staff to interact more with the customers in other ways and cement their relationships with them.”

Reed says customer use of the smart tellers is slowly growing. She says about 2,200 transactions are happening on the machines each month, while about 3,200 customers opt for the traditional teller line.

“The customers who try it, love it,” she says, adding that the bank’s customer base skews older, and many senior customers still prefer speaking with the teller in the normal line.

Video capabilities

Claremont Savings’ smart teller machines, made by Diebold Nixdorf in North Canton, Ohio, and installed by Fiserv Inc. in Brookfield, Wis., cost about $120,000 total for the pair, including installation, Reed says. The machines are located in a secure area in the bank’s foyer, and customers and non-customers can access them 24 hours a day using their ATM card.
The machines are basically ATMs souped-up with a number of features that are designed to replicate teller activities. They dispense any denomination of bills, just like a regular teller, so a customer can deposit a $67 check and then withdraw that amount by receiving three $20 bills, a $5 note and two $1 bills. The machines also accept deposits without envelopes and print the check image on the receipt.

An important customer service feature is a direct video connection from the machines to the bank’s 10-person call center. This feature, which works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., allows customers with questions about the technology or specifically about their account to see and talk with a person immediately. About two or three customers a week use the video service.

Homework important

Reed says the bank investigated two smart teller machines and chose its current model because it interfaces directly with the bank’s core processor. That allows for transactions to be live, rather than having to be downloaded and handled overnight.

She advises other community banks to make sure they investigate that issue and others before making such a purchase. “It’s important to look at your customer and population base and investigate what kind of banking they do,” she says. “Make sure they’re ready for this kind of technology.”

Reed says that although the adoption rate for use of the smart tellers at Claremont Savings so far has been slower than hoped, she feels the result could be different in a less rural community with a higher volume and younger population.

“If we were in a college town doing this, I’m sure more people would take advantage of it,” she says.

Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.