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Touch-screen tellers are the new wave in banking

Via Portland Press Herald : Gorham Savings Bank has rolled out the state’s first two Interactive Teller Machines, which allow customers to talk with a real, live teller over a video link.

The latest trend in banking is actually a step back in time: Customers are being encouraged to talk with tellers.

But, as this is 2016, technology is involved in that conversation.

Gorham Savings Bank has rolled out the state’s first two interactive teller machines – or ITMs – which allow customers to talk with a real, live teller over a video link.

The machines are in Kennebunk, which represents a new market for the bank, and on Munjoy Hill in Portland.

“For community banks to be relevant, you’ve got to look at all these options,” said Rebecca Winslow, director of retail for the bank.

The machines are popping up all over the country as banks grapple with ways to maintain customer contact while reining in operating costs. Standalone kiosks are especially prevalent in urban areas, where the cost of a bricks-and-mortar branch can be prohibitive, but they are likely to catch on in rural areas, too, said Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.

“Those are places where you wouldn’t have (personal banking) services at all” without an ITM, she said.

Winslow said bank customers can walk up to the machine, touch a button on the screen for a video link and be face-to-face with a teller, who is based in the bank’s Gorham operations center and can help the customer conduct business. A handset allows for privacy while the teller performs a number of services, such as accepting deposits, dispensing cash or providing information about loan rates.

One major benefit for customers is they can withdraw money without an ATM, debit or credit card from an ITM. The customer can put his or her driver’s license on a separate screen that scans it, allowing the teller to confirm the customer’s identity, account information and disburse money through the machine.

Feddis said other banks have found that customers use the ITMs when they want to exceed the withdrawal limit at the machine. Other customers feel more comfortable depositing a large check via a transaction with a teller. Feddis also said banks and customers are likely to come up with new uses for the teller link as the machines become more prevalent.

For Gorham Savings, the machines provide a way to extend business hours. Although branches close at the end of a normal business day, the teller link at the ITMs is available until 9 p.m. Winslow said the bank will consider extending the hours even later – such as in the summer – if the demand is there.

Chris Pinkham, president of the Maine Bankers Association, said he expects the ITMs to become ubiquitous. At last year’s annual meeting of the association, a manufacturer set up a display ITM and it “was all the rage,” Pinkham said. “It was the buzz.”

He said he expects other Maine banks will choose to install ITMs when they replace older ATMs or expand their network of machines.

For a bank, the advantages are obvious.

At about $75,000, ITMs are roughly the same cost as a “smart” ATM that can take deposits in addition to dispensing cash. Winslow said Gorham Savings Bank had to install a software upgrade to its computer network to accommodate the two-way video feed, but the cost wasn’t great.

She said a teller was shifted from the Gorham office to handle the ITM transactions and another part-timer was moved to handle the extended hours. But since one teller should be able to take care of several ITM locations, she said, the bank won’t need to shift additional resources until more of its 13 ATMs are converted.

Feddis said banks around the country are adopting ITMs rapidly, although she said she didn’t have any numbers on how many have been installed. Global research and consulting firm Celent has studied the growth of ITMs and estimated last summer that about 2 percent of U.S. banks have the machines and 37 percent are considering them.

Both Pinkham and Feddis said that ITMs offer a way to extend service areas without the expenses associated with building and staffing a branch. But ITMs still require maintenance, security, rent for the space and daily trips to collect deposits and resupply cash.

“It’s really more about getting more services out there” than it is about saving money, Feddis said.

Winslow said Gorham Savings Bank plans to add its next ITM in its main branch in Gorham, which will let the bank tap another teller for when things get busy.

She also said the bank still intends to maintain its network of branches where customers go for services such as car and home loans.

“We want to minimize trips to the lobby,” she said, but for those who feel more comfortable dealing with a teller who isn’t made up of pixels, the branches will still be there.

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