Fundamental remote teller technology has been around for more than a decade, but the role it plays for credit unions and their members is continually evolving. From safety, to convenience, to improved efficiency, the technology can bring a variety of benefits to financial institutions.
“In 1998, we were the first institution in Maryland to implement remote tellers,” says Lynn Gregory, senior vice president of marketing and member services for Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union ($278M, Baltimore, MD). Today, the credit union fully utilizes remote teller systems (RTS) at three of its five locations. In these branches, service representatives man the front desk while tellers in a secure back room interact with members via video screens positioned in teller units. The teller system uses pneumatic tubes, so aside from large coin withdrawals or deposits that must be transferred in person; the teller stations offer members all the convenience of a drive-through.
“It’s just the way you view the tellers that’s different,” Gregory says. The credit union first implemented RTS technology in more crime prone areas on or around the Johns Hopkins campus, where traditional teller stations came equipped with bulletproof glass.
“[Our CEO thought] bulletproof glass isn’t exactly personal, so why don’t we go for something that’s inherently safer and increases convenience for the member,” Gregory says.
Aside from safety, the technology also increases efficiency. Remote teller technology allows just four tellers to work up to eight stations at a time. Generally, members are not quite ready when they approach the line, or they count their money when they get it back, which creates dead time for tellers.
“With this technology [the teller] can serve this person, flip to the next one, and keep things moving,” Gregory says.
Having the right employees to work RTS stations is also crucial to efficiency, but the technology itself helps the credit unions both appeal to, and retain, talented staff.
“You definitely need people who are willing to go out of their way to be friendly,” says Gregory. “They’re on TV so you need them to adapt to that but still let their personality show through.” In return, tellers have access to an appealing and unique work environment with food, music, and other comforts. “They’re safe and they’re basically in their own little zone,” says Gregory.
Other institutions have reported member resistance to remote technology, but Johns Hopkins’ key to member acceptance was to demonstrate how much safer and faster the RTS units are, and how the fundamental transactions themselves remain unchanged.
“You’re still dealing with real people, not a machine,” Gregory adds.
Retrofitting a traditional branch, as opposed to opening a new one, is the most common time for institutions to encounter resistance from their membership. To counteract this, when Johns Hopkins Federal reopened its RTS equipped branches, it gave away insulated lunch sacks to 100 first-time users. It also staffed additional greeters to make sure the entire experience was positive.
“These steps mitigate whatever members thought they were going to object to,” Gregory says, and if the initial experience is crafted correctly, continuing use of the RTS system becomes a non-issue for even the most stringent traditionalists. The credit union does continue to refine its system through frequent focus group sessions, but the feedback they receive from members is “almost 100% positive,” says Gregory.
Although JHFCU doesn’t have expansions planned in the near future, Gregory predicts any subsequent branches will use RTS technology. “We are SEG based and determined to stay focused on the John Hopkins Community” says Gregory. "But we do want to leverage technology to be as convenient as possible, so we’re definitely big fans of remote teller systems.”