Decades ago, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) emerged as a way to remove the teller from the transaction and achieve a better customer experience at a lower cost. Then the Personal Teller Machine (PTM) emerged as a way to put the teller back into the transaction — and achieve exactly the same result.
Now uGenius, the company behind the software that powers the uGenius PTM, has developed yet another "end-point" video banking service called SmartOFFICE — that broadens the range of video banking capabilities. And one Philadelphia financial institution is betting that these two technologies together represent the customer friendly, cost-efficient, self-service future of branch banking.
Conestoga Bank President Richard Elko said that he and his creative team started asking themselves a few years ago how the next generation of the branch bank should look.
"We knew that the traditional branch bank is not the right road," Elko said. "And we know that, unfortunately, from experience. And so we said, 'We've got to come up with something different. We've got to come up with something new.'"
'Main Street meets high tech'
Customers who step into Conestoga Bank's new Bankwerx mini-branch in downtown Philadelphia find themselves in a warm and welcoming environment ("Like Main Street meets high tech," customer Mary Ann Kleschick said). That's almost surprising, since machines easily outnumber employees in the small space.
The 1,500–1,800 square foot branch has just two staff members, a "traditional banker" and a concierge, whose job is to welcome customers and help them as needed with the bank's video technology.
The branch includes two wall-mounted PTMs in the vestibule. The machines look much like standard ATMs, but have top-mounted video screens and slightly deeper surrounds for privacy. There, Conestoga customers can connect via video with call center staff to cash a check or ask a question about their account. Customers who only need to make a deposit or cash withdrawal can use the terminal teller-free, just like any ATM.
For more complex banking procedures — a mortgage or personal loan application, for instance — Conestoga Bankwerx customers can arrange a SmartOFFICE visit at the mini-branch.
A complement to the personal teller machine
The SmartOFFICE concept involves a small, office or conference room equipped with a uGenius-powered computer console and a wall-mounted HDTV monitor. In this private setting, bank customers can talk "face-to-face" with a personal banker (as opposed to a teller), who is qualified to provide a number of specialized banking services, such as loans, trusts, and insurance transactions.
The remote banker carries out these functions using the console controls, which allow the banker to copy identification, capture signatures and send the customer's documents to print in the SmartOFFICE.
"The SmartOFFICE really provides an environment that's a little more conducive to these longer, consultative types of banking transactions," said uGenius president, Jed Taylor. "It's a little bit more private where [the customer] can sit down, they can think, they can talk, maybe they have their spouse there with them; they can be talking about what they want to do."
The importance of the human touch
Though SmartOFFICE and PTMs are easily navigated even by first time users, Taylor said it was important to customers to have the reassuring presence of a concierge who "holds their hand, maybe gets them a cup of coffee, helps them get connected and makes them comfortable in that environment."
Customer Mary Ann Kleschick said she appreciated that bank personnel were right there to help her use the new machines for the first time.
"They kind of walk you through the process just for the first time and teach you how to make it work," Kleschick said. This took the pressure off, she said. "It's not like self-checkout at the Super Fresh on Columbus Boulevard. You know, where there's a million people in line behind you and the thing's beeping."
The fact that the technology seemed so accessible to a customer like Kleschick, who falls into the late-late-Boomer age group, is encouraging to a bank that's trying to use technology like PTMs and SmartOFFICE to attract young customers, without alienating those who didn't cut their teeth on an X-Box.
"There are still those people that are a little bit more conservative, a little bit more cautious about this technology, but honestly, those folks are fewer and farther between," said Elko. "And if you just get a chance to kind of talk to them and show them firsthand how this stuff works, most of the time they say, 'Great, I'm in.'"
'Well along the road'
The Conestoga mini-branch has been open for just one month, and so far Conestoga is the only bank using the combined suite of uGenius services. But based on ready consumer acceptance and demonstrated efficiency, both Taylor and Elko see the uGenius video technology model as the future of the bank branch.
"I see people really revisiting the entire branch deployment model," said Taylor. "I think some people are looking at right-sizing, but they also want to expand. I really think [video services are] going to be a way for them to build out their distribution network in a way that's much smarter than we've done in the past 15–20 years."
Conestoga is considering which of its other 13 branches to convert to the new model, and where to pursue growth opportunities with its compact, cost-efficient, video-powered mini-branch. "We will continue to tweak this, we'll change it a little bit. We'll update it. We'll make it a little bit better. But I think we are well along the road to the right answer here."
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Suzanne’s editorial career has spanned three decades and encompassed all B2B and B2C communications formats. Her award-winning work has appeared in trade and consumer media in the United States and internationally.