Dollar Bank's interactive tellers part of push to lower costs


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Customers who use Dollar Bank's Virginia Manor branch in Mt. Lebanon don't have to worry about rushing to the bank before it closes to cash a check or talk to a teller.

Last summer, Dollar became the first bank in the Pittsburgh region to experiment with interactive video ATMs that let customers see and speak with live tellers.

The machines, which are available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, connect customers with Dollar's call center in the Strip District, allowing them to conduct virtually any transaction remotely that they could at a teller window.

The advance function machines also cash checks by dispensing the exact dollar amount and depositing any change into the customer's account. And they stamp check images on receipts to help customers feel more comfortable about making deposits at a machine.

The upgraded technology is part of a continual push by banks to steer customers to lower-cost delivery services. Transactions at a teller window, for example, can cost more than six times what they cost at an automated teller machine.

While market leader PNC Bank has not installed any interactive video machines, it has already replaced or equipped 300 of its roughly 670 ATMs in the region to provide check images and dispense dollar bills. The "DepositEasy" machines also accept stacks of checks or bills in a single deposit instead of requiring users to feed the items in separately.

In places where PNC has multiple ATMs, such as at branch offices, not all of the machines will be upgraded, spokesman Pat McMahon said. The rollout is expected to be complete by the end of the summer when about 4,000 of PNC's roughly 7,000 machines systemwide are converted to the new technology, he said.

So far, Dollar officials have been "encouraged" with customer response to the bank's so-called personal teller machines, or PTMs, but are still evaluating whether to deploy them on a wide scale, senior vice president Joseph B. Smith said. The bank has 73 ATMs and 37 offices in the Pittsburgh region.

For Dollar, the region's fourth biggest retail bank, the interactive function of the new machines is a way to extend branch banking hours without keeping branches open longer, Mr. Smith said.

Besides two PTMs at Virginia Manor, there are two others at Dollar's McIntyre Square branch in Ross. In early March, the bank plans to install one more at its new Robinson Court branch that opened in November in Robinson.

As might be expected, the PTMs have been getting the most use in off-hours when the branches are closed, Mr. Smith said, with the heaviest usage on Saturdays.

For now, customers who use the machines are automatically connected to a live teller. Sometime in the second quarter, customers should have the option of using the machines like a traditional ATM, after the manufacturer, NCR, completes the certification process, Mr. Smith said.

Because the new machines currently can't be used like a regular ATM, Dollar hasn't been able to fully assess their popularity.

"We're still evaluating what the best use is for them," Mr. Smith said. "There have been lively discussions, which haven't finished yet."

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Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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