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Video Banking Makes Robbery Impossible

September 18, 2012 | Telepresence Options
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FirstOntario Credit Union in Ancaster is a bank with no tellers. (Kate Adach)

By Kate Adach, CBC News

How do you rob a bank that has no tellers?

"Oh, we have tellers," says Mary De Sousa, marketing leader of an innovative banking system that provides virtual bankers through a computer screen. She points to a machine. "That's our teller." The machine looks like any ATM, but once activated, a smiling woman appears on the screen and asks "how can I help you?"

The "teller" is a live bank employee ready to serve you from her desk another city over. These virtual banking services - known as "PAT" (personal assisted teller) technology - can be found across the Greater Hamilton Area in several FirstOntario Credit Union branches. The bank introduced the "chat with PAT" service in 2010. Now it's increasingly transitioning its format into virtual banking.

"They are super-human ATM machines," described James Lefebvre, director of business services for FirstOntario Credit Union, a Hamilton-based bank. "But it's not like you're looking at an animated person, you're actually looking at one of our frontline tellers."

FirstOntario's newest branch opened in Ancaster last Monday - the first such Credit Union in Ancaster and the first of their branches to open without any flesh and blood tellers at all.

Like Skyping with your banker

The latest Ancaster branch has one PAT kiosk and one regular bank machine. Its 1200 square feet are designed to feel like your average bank, only on a smaller scale.

During regular business hours the building is staffed with a receptionist, manager and financial consultants for more complicated banking, who have private offices in the back. But there are no people standing behind a counter.

Instead, for quick transactions, you can approach the PAT kiosk, scan your ID and interact with the teller over the video computer screen and phone system. It's a bit like using Skype -- the video conferencing tool -- with your banker.

"There's a human ability to respond," Lefebvre said. "They can read your emotions because they can see your face and you're seeing theirs."

Most of the PAT tellers who appear on the screen had worked behind counters at FirstOntario banks. Now they work out of a corporate office in Hamilton. There are about 5 to 12 "satellite" employees who rotate shifts. Introducing more PAT machines "is not about staff reduction it's about expanding our footprint," said De Sousa, FirstOntario's assistant vice-president of marketing.

The virtual tellers can be accessed after office hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. As the service gains popularity, the bank hopes to extend PAT tellers' availability into the wee hours.


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