More than three years ago, Coastal Federal Credit Union ($2.2B, Raleigh, NC) pioneered personal teller machines (PTMs)to prepare for a more effective, efficient, and profitable future. The credit union currently serves more members per FTE than its national, state, or asset-based peers — 441 per employee versus 386, 415, and 414, respectively — and originates nearly three times more loans than other North Carolina credit unions per FTE — $1.4 million versus $542,000.
Willard Ross, chief retail officer and senior vice president of Coastal Federal Credit Union, discusses how converting all of the credit union’s branch locations from a traditional teller line model to one that incorporates PTMs has helped the credit union become not only more efficient and convenient but also more secure.
What Is A Personal Teller Machine?
Personal teller machines are a way for members to walk into their preferred branch location and, with the push of a button, connect with a live, remote representative who walks them through transactions. Although PTMs might look similar to an ATM — for example, they have screens and a phone headset — and cost about the same as a high-end automatic teller machine, they are not a self-service tool.
“Members have a real face-to-face interaction,” Ross says. “It’s fast, but it’s also personal.”
Coastal’s PTM units accept cash and checks and distribute cash, checks, coins, and receipts, and because the system does not rely on pneumatic tubes, remote tellers can work as a single unit at a centralized location.
“The employees like the ability to all be together,” Ross says. “And it makes training more consistent and effective when it’s under the same roof.”
Although Coastal’s 16 branches no longer have tellers, they do still have real people to help their members. Account managers and relationship managers are available in the branches during normal lobby hours. These employees focus on expanding services and cross-selling versus handling transactions.
No Cash = No Robberies
Without traditional cash handling and teller lines, thieves have avoided Coastal branches.
“We haven’t had a robbery in over three years,” Ross shared during a Callahan webinar in which he presented Coastal’s PTM strategy and successes. This has made not only the credit union’s staff but also its members feel safer.
“We’re able to recruit and retain the best tellers in the market,” Ross says. “People know they can come to work for Coastal and the risk of being held at gunpoint on the teller line simply does not exist.”
The credit union has also found that members feel more secure visiting the new PTM-driven branches. Coastal often receives comments through its Net Promoter surveys indicating that members feel safer and understand there is less risk of robbery because of the new branch structure.
Automation Helps Reduce Fraud & Some Compliance Requirements
Coastal tellers never touch cash. Not only does this remove employee temptation to steal, which Coastal avoided even prior to its PTM conversion, it also helps eliminate the need for audit requirements such as surprise cash counts.
“Previously, we had to do surprise cash counts in every branch quarterly,” Ross says. “Now we don’t need to do that.”
An outside company handles the PTM cash bins, which has reduced the burden on Coastal to manage and audit individual teller cash drawers. And Coastal’s PTMs include software that automatically screens for counterfeit bills, which helps the credit union prevent fraudulent deposits before they occur. Plus, according to Ross, the machines themselves might also put off those who would try to fool the credit union.
“We’ve recently hired a teller manager from one of the larger banks in the market and she was surprised at how low our losses are compared to her former big bank employer,” Ross says.
Fraud Busters On The Job
Coastal celebrates fraud prevention with a “Fraud Buster” wall of stories in its centralized teller area. On a recent visit, Ross noted 14 stories that helped the credit union avoid more than $100,000 in losses.
“The common thread in all of the stories is that we’ve got good, experienced tellers and the best management talent we could find all in a centralized environment,” Ross says.
This centralization helps the credit union’s employees spot and prevent potential fraud. Tellers suspicious of a transaction can easily dig deeper or step away to consult with a manager.
“Often, we find that if our teller steps away from the screen to talk with a manager about something unusual, the person attempting fraud is gone by the time they come back,” Ross says.
The new setup also enables tellers to be more careful and less distracted than in a traditional teller line, which can be stressful.
“If our gut tells us something’s wrong, we can dig a little deeper and catch it right there instead of trying to deal with it on the back-end after we’re already exposed,” Ross says.
A Major Differentiator In The Market
Beyond the enhanced security and fraud prevention the PTMs provide, Ross says they also offer a major point of differentiation from the credit union’s competition.
“Nobody else in town has the teller hours that we do,” he says. “Our extended hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. This has helped us attract business from the banks.”