By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
In the not-too-distant future, you likely will be able to do personal banking over a video screen inside a branch rather than face-to-face with a teller.
Or talk with a bank employee over a video screen at a stand-alone automated teller machine nowhere near a bank.
Or use a smartphone instead of a bank card at an ATM.
Or perhaps do business at a solar-cell powered ATM equipped with battery backup while traveling in an area where utility-supplied electricity is unreliable.
Diebold Inc. is exploring those options and more — and the new sophisticated technology and software it is developing are now showing up at banks and credit unions around the nation.
It’s about much more than taking cash from an ATM — that’s almost as old school as going to a bank teller. Diebold instead is developing self-service, consumer-friendly technology to replace a lot of the routine work tellers now do.
“You want it to be comfortable ... make it seem like a teller,” said Tim Hoover, head of global product development at Diebold. “We call it branch transformation.”
And “branch transformation” is a big deal for Diebold. The company calls it one of the key drivers in the global ATM marketplace.
As the $3 billion Green-based maker of ATMs and security systems works to restore profitability and growth, it also continues to invest in research and development. And that means understanding evolving technology, consumer trends and bank needs.
Diebold’s concept of branch transformation involves helping banks and credit unions cut costs by having machines do a lot of routine banking transactions instead of bank employees at a branch, the company said.
“It’s a very dynamic part of the industry at the moment,” said James Thurston, spokesman for the Ohio Bankers League, the trade association that represents banking institutions in the state.
Community, regional and big banks are all moving quickly to improve their technology and to redesign their branches to make customers more comfortable and happy, he said.
Banks typically wait five to 10 years to upgrade branches, he said.
The ones being upgraded now in many cases are redesigned to resemble coffee shops with “a lot of flat-screen displays to look at,” he said. “It’s really starting to take off.”
Where tellers had been at the forefront on most branches, “now they are tucked away in a corner,” he said.
A customer coming into a branch for a mortgage loan might end up speaking via video conference with a loan officer based elsewhere, he said.
Banks are also learning how best to work with younger customers who want to do their transactions via mobile phone instead of coming into a branch, he said.
“The dynamic is certainly moving toward the mobile experience,” he said. “As long as you need cash, you are going to need ATMs. We haven’t seen any trend where ATM use has dropped off.”
The new technology is not “one size fits all,” said Nessa Feddis, senior vice president at the American Bankers Association trade group in Washington, D.C. Some people are more comfortable using a machine for transactions than a person, she said.
“Banks are driven by competition. If enhanced ATMs serve that purpose, that’s where they’ll migrate,” Feddis said.
Larger financial institutions are paying more for these kinds of new, enhanced ATMs, she said. It might be more efficient for banks to have customers use the more powerful ATMs for routine transactions than go to a teller, she said.
“It may help banks focus more on non-routine transactions,” Feddis said.
It’s doubtful that these more sophisticated ATMs will replace all teller jobs, she said. When ATMs first came out decades ago, there were predictions that the technology would replace people and that hasn’t happened, she said.
“It’s not about the bank. It’s about the customers,” Feddis said.
A new ABA survey of 1,000 adult banking customers shows that using the Internet is the most popular banking method, followed by visiting a branch, with ATM usage third. The fastest-growing banking method is by use of mobile devices, which has passed telephone and mail, according to the survey results released last month.
Diebold recently launched Opteva brand ATMs with what it calls “Concierge Video Services” that allow banking customers to use a video screen on the ATM to speak with a live person for help with a transaction or discuss how to use the machine. The person on the other end of the video link might work at another bank office or at the bank’s call center — Diebold will offer call center services for its smaller banking customers.
In developing the new technologies, Diebold over the last couple of years has been interviewing consumers and financial institutions to look at such things as how people are using, among other things, smartphones and other hand-held devices. Diebold wants to understand how they would envision using ATMs or other self-service devices, Hoover said. In addition, Diebold’s designs incorporate “green” technology as well, including low electricity usage.
Financial institutions want to make sure they are on top of the merging of the so-called channels such as home Internet use, mobile technology and self-service at branches, Hoover said.
“Enriching the consumer experience” was a key point taken from Diebold’s research, Hoover said. “Traditional transactions have been going to a branch and talking to a teller, going through that.”
The idea now is to find ways for those transactions to be easily and securely done largely without face-to-face interaction, he said. Diebold works with financial institutions to figure out what transactions are best done at a branch or using a mobile phone or other device, Hoover said.
Consumers want efficiency, speed and experience, and control of their finances, but also want human interaction and a relationship with their financial institution, said Diebold spokeswoman Kelly Piero. Diebold is looking at how to meet and enhance those needs, she said.
Diebold earlier this year introduced a concept ATM aimed at the Millennial generation that is highly comfortable using mobile devices. The concept ATM integrates with mobile devices via the cloud, meaning they do not have to use a bank card for transactions.
To make the transactions as safe and secure as possible, Diebold’s newest-generation ATMs can be equipped with driver’s license scanners and biometric scanners — fingerprint readers, finger vein readers, palm readers and iris readers.
New ATMs offer check imaging and check cashing — including printing checks on receipts — as well as bill-paying services. Some machines will dispense $5 and $10 bills and have coin dispensers, too. The machines can detect counterfeit bills and can count bundles of bills and checks more accurately than a human.
“They are very high-tech devices that can take the human factor out,” Hoover said.
Diebold’s designs are intended not to intimidate customers or make them mad and have to go a teller, he said.
“You are trying to make it inviting and more like a teller,” Hoover said.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org