Why Is There a Person in Your ATM?

By Eric Reed

On Thursday morning Bank of America announced that it will begin putting live people on the other end of its ATM machines. Called Teller Assist, the project aims to create an all-in-one experience, offering customers the convenience of an ATM with the human interaction of a storefront.

Although users will still be able to select all of the traditional functions of an ATM, they will now also be able to videoconference with a Bank of America employee. The system will offer some of the same services found at the counter, including redeeming checks for cash and choosing various denominations for a withdrawal. Planned, but not yet implemented, features include making loan payments and splitting deposits among multiple accounts.

ATMs will still offer computerized services 24/7, and Teller Assist will operate from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. local time during weekdays and from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. local time on the weekends. According to Bank of America spokesperson Tara Burke, Bank of America will pilot this program with 36 machines in Boston and Atlanta over the second quarter of 2013. Plans for future markets will depend on feedback and are currently evolving.

"We've seen a growing demand for self-service banking," Burke said, explaining the drive behind this new program. She assures customers that fees will remain the same at all ATM's, including those with Teller Assist, and that the only difference will be the expanded functionality.

This technology is part of a greater industry trend toward finding a balance between digital and personal interaction and has been successful for the other banks that have pioneered it, including Coastal Federal Credit Union (CFCU), which debuted its "Personal Teller Machines" in 2008. CFCU is the first institution to got 100% video banking, according to Jim Mecca, a spokesperson for CFCU.

The Personal Teller Machines are dedicated systems, Mecca said, which means that they don't double as ATMs. Instead, they fill all the roles of a traditional teller for CFCU, and have allowed the bank to move that function completely online. Branch staff is now dedicated to complex transactions such as lending and account management, while deposits, withdrawals and checking are all handled by video conference with a teller at the credit union's headquarters.