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Banks add virtual tellers as branch numbers shrink

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Bank of America made news in February with the opening of three teller-less branches, but Indiana-based Salin Bank and some regional banks have been adding virtual tellers for years.

Here’s how Salin Bank tellers miles away help customers at branches across Indiana:

When you touch the screen of the fancy Salin Live Banking kiosk, Cheryl or some other teller wearing a headset appears and asks how she can help. Salin has 16 bankers who work remotely from two Indiana locations, offering screen-to-face assistance for Salin customers.

Photos by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Live Banker Cheryl answers a visitor’s questions about services available through Salin Bank’s Interactive Teller Machine.

Think of this as FaceTime or Skype with your banker.

The Salin Live bankers can help customers with deposits, withdrawals, transfers of funds and make payments on Salin loans and credit cards. To open a credit card or a bank account, though, you’ll need to visit a branch with tellers – or open a credit card or bank account at the bank’s website.

Called an Interactive Teller Machine, or ITM in the trade, Salin rolled out Salin Live teleconference banking in 2013. Salin was the first bank in Indiana and among the first across the country to add virtual tellers.

At the time, Salin was NCR’s largest installation of APTRA Interactive Tellers. Today, the family-owned Salin has 41 ITMs throughout Central Indiana.

The use of virtual tellers has been growing in recent years as the number of bank branches shrinks.

The number of U.S. bank branches reached a high in 2009 of 99,540, but the total was 92,111 at the end of 2016, according to the American Bankers Association. That’s a drop of 7.46 percent. Consultants PwC projects there will be 20 percent fewer bank branches in the U.S. by 2020.

BMO Harris debuted its first smaller, teller-less “Smart Branch” in Chicago in 2015. There are now four more in Chicago and a sixth Smart Branch will open in Sherman Park, Wisconsin, in the fall.

Regions Bank started offering Video Banking at its branches in summer 2014. Video Bankers processed 9,300 transactions in 2015 and 30,200 transactions in 2016 – a 325 percent increase.

“This is a growing option for people who want to make a quick transaction – but also want personal service,” says Regions Bank’s Jeremy D. King.

A Salin Live Banking ITM lets the customer talk by phone and video conference with a Salin teller at another location.

Oftentimes video banking allows personal service well beyond the traditional banker’s hours.

Salin Live Banking’s hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. At Regions, Video Banking is available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, marking Regions’ first Sunday hours for customers who want to speak with a teller.

Salin Bank President James Alender says the ITMs and virtual tellers have allowed the bank to expand customer service hours with personal assistance, while controlling labor costs and overhead expenses.

As a result, Salin Bank has been able to provide banking services in remote areas with the ITMs, avoiding the cost of brick-and-mortar branches.

In the four years since Salin introduced video banking, about 60 to 70 percent of Salin transactions occur through ITMs, Alender said. And a bank analysis of customers shows there’s little difference in who is using the ITMs. Women, men and all ages use the machines.

NCR ITMs are now in 50 states, with the rollout of Alaska’s Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union’s system Feb. 22, 2017. Down the road, ITMs will be able to do even more, such as credit card or loan bank operations, said Aaron Gould, a media relations specialist at NCR.

Regions’ King says Video Banking is being added at new branches and with any renovations. At Regions, most often the Video Banking ATMs, or VTMs, are most often offered as just another banking option for customers at traditional branches.

Sure, video banking may be part of those fewer and smaller bank branches of the future, but virtual tellers also are increasingly a part of banking today.

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