Hey, Buddy! Can you spare a dime?

Dec. 20, 2012 | by Richard Buckle

Apple stock is down — way off its highs of only a few months ago. Will it come roaring back and climb to even greater heights? Maybe. If anything were to fuel another growth spurt, it will be Apple TV, according to the pundits. Just you wait and see!

Even as I contemplate Apple TV, I recall that in the TV cabinets in my home there are three WebTV units, a legacy from the Microsoft purchase of WebTV in the late 1990s. The technology, according to Microsoft, would let users access email and browse the web on a TV set, and would help position Microsoft to better penetrate the home television market, which at the time was just about everyone. Well, I didn't have to wait long to see just how useless was this foray into integrating my TV set with the Internet.

Imagine then my surprise when I read that there are parties who want to convert the screen of an ATM into a TV set, hook it up across the Internet — well, perhaps a private TCP/IP network — and instigate two-way communications. According to an article in the USA Today, "Your bank teller could soon be coming to you through a 30-inch flat screen."

The article goes on to say "In an age where more customers, particularly Millennials, prefer to bank online, banks are looking for ways to keep branches relevant while reducing costs. Several institutions, mainly credit unions and community banks, are starting to deploy video ATMs that allow customers to interact with tellers."

In closing, the article quotes Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management policy at the American Bankers Association, "I would be surprised if we didn't [see widespread adoption] across all sizes of institutions."

Really? In my ongoing commentary about where I think ATMs are headed, I missed this apparently obvious strategic shift. I guess I've been too busy doing transactions on my smartphone and tablet. It's not just a case of Millennials favoring banking online, I would argue, as there are few occasions these days when I need to talk to a banker.

Wouldn't there be risks associated with using these video ATMs? Surely, the longer we stood talking to the ATM, the more we would be at risk from all sorts of unsavory characters.

"When you really think about it, ATMs are really primitive devices that are useless for anything other than dispensing cash; there's only two things that you can do with an ATM that you can't do on your smart phone or your laptop — get cash [and] deposit cash," said Sami Akbay, former vice president of marketing for GoldenGate software, a company intimately involved with ensuring that data is never lost between data centers supporting ATM networks. "Simply put, unless you are handling cash, you don't go to the ATM or even the branch."

Akbay is familiar with ATM operations across Europe, but what about other parts of the world?

"We are seeing continued success with our OmniPayments solution — it provides banks with the requisite functionality to manage credit card and debit card transactions; our footprint is spread wide with customers in the US as well as in South America," said Yash Kapadia, CEO of OmniPayments Inc., a provider of solutions to FIs for acquiring, authenticating, routing, switching and authorizing financial transactions across multiple input channels such as ATM, POS, kiosks, IVR and the internet.

"As such we see a lot of different usage scenarios — banks do try different things with ATMs when it comes to making sure their customers continue to do business with them," he said. "But video ATMs that let customers interact remotely? Haven't come across that yet in the western hemisphere, although I could see potential value in supporting first-time users or even new applications such as we are seeing with governments beginning to include ATMs as a delivery method for social welfare. It might be nice to be able to talk to someone before pressing any keys and being unable to complete transactions successfully."

On this point, Akbay agreed, saying "I haven't seen any ATMs that have full video dialogues in my recent travels to Europe and I don't think it is generally the direction that banks would want to take — they are pretty sophisticated with online banking via computers and smartphones. But in my opinion, the video-teller model may be better suited to communities less computer-literate and incapable of pursuing self-service via an application."

"What we are seeing at financial institutions running OmniPayments — OmniATM, OmniPOS and OmniSwitch — remains fundamentally grounded in handling cash," Yash said. "Anything more from an ATM at this time may be just for a select few. What is perhaps more interesting is the support for mobile devices and doing even more banking business online — with the rate of rollout of new mobile phone apps, I have to wonder sometimes whether banks would be better served if I could initiate a video connection right from my phone or tablet."

I have written a number of posts suggesting that the ATM has become the equivalent of the village pub from times past, where folks gather to obtain the basics. In other writings I have suggested that I do see the time when my smartphone will be an integral part of how I withdraw cash from an ATM. I have even agreed with many who think future ATMs may include an attached kiosk, forming a user-friendly, almost corner-store convenience appliance.

But turning it into a television? I guess I will just have to wait and see. On the other hand, I wonder if transaction selection menus on these video ATMs will include a function to change the channel — perhaps offer a Skype option. If I could talk to anyone and everyone, um, now that might be very useful in prolonging the battery life of my smartphone. And saving a couple of dimes!

Topics: ATM Innovation , Bank / Credit Union , Transaction Processing

Richard Buckle / Richard Buckle is the founder and CEO of Pyalla Technologies LLC. He has enjoyed a long association with the IT industry as a user, vendor, and more recently, as an industry commentator.
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