o Credit unions may find themselves choosing between back-office and teller check capture.
o Some industry participants say the shift is to the teller option, others say they haven't seen it.
o Each option has its own characteristics, and the choice involves member service questions as much as technology options.
When Wesley Wilhelm first began working with checks, the process included regular visits from the proof operator asking for explanations about reconciled items the back shop was preparing to ship.
"I was a teller at a small bank in central California," said the senior analyst at Aite Group who specializes in payments, branch and retail banking channels. "We've sure come a long way since then."
Check 21, of course, provided the tipping point for paper to electronic imaging and now Wilhelm and other industry participants are seeing a kind of shakeout to determine the most popular point in the process for the initial check capture to occur.
Institutions can find themselves facing two options: capture the images and truncate them by the batch in the back shop at the branch or a centralized location, or capture them at the teller line as the transaction is occurring.
Those who are worried about slowing down the action at the window, where tellers might better spend their time providing personal service rather than scanning checks, prefer the back shop option, and that's where most credit unions are now in the Check 21 process.
But that seems to be changing. "We are without a doubt seeing a move toward teller capture," said Milton King, director of imaging solution sales for ProfitStars, a Dallas-based division of Symitar owner Jack Henry & Associates.
King said about 20 of his 125 credit union clients use teller capture, with another 25 or 30 about to make the move. The advantages of capturing an image early in the process include improved research capability, "especially from the account and item perspective," he said.
"It allows us to put tools in place, such as working with new and closed accounts, that would have had to be part of the downstream functionality and now we can do at the actual point of transaction."
As for concerns about slowing down service at the front line, ProfitStars said its research found that the opposite has occurred, as the scanners eliminate time-consuming keystrokes and data entry, allowing for more teller cross-selling and member service.
A competitor agrees. "What our institutions are telling us is that [teller check capture] lets their tellers operate in more of a heads-up environment," said Sue Pinsonneault, retail delivery product manager for Open Solutions in Glastonbury, Conn. "And we're not just talking about checks here. Any document that comes across the teller line can go into the scanner, be read and populate a transaction screen. If something's missing or can't be read, that automatically pops up on a screen."
Instant archiving and integration with core processing systems are also driving the move to teller capture, according to Pinsonneault and Ron Rease, vice president of strategic partnerships with Bluepoint Solutions of Vista, Calif., a 1,000-client imaging specialist whose Check 21 solutions have been integrated with Open Solutions' DNA core processing platform.
"This really gives us the ability to validate items as they're submitted and before they're committed to the core database, all done on the front end," Rease said.
Pinsonneault added, "I believe this is the next evolution of item processing and that teller capture will eliminate the need for branch capture."
That's already happened at $83 million Ball State Federal Credit Union in Muncie, Ind., where the 12 teller stations at two branches use Bluepoint Solutions gear to process checks, receipts and other documents.
The credit union went directly to capture at the teller line after scanning for archival purposes for several years in the back shop. After Check 21-enabled check scanners were added in 2007, the 14, 000-member CU was positioned to immediately start processing electronic cash letters, according to President/CEO Randy Glassburn.
"Why would I move to branch capture when I'm already capturing at the teller line? That would be like moving back in time," he said.
He also said that he had heard concerns about teller capture slowing down teller lines but that that had not been his credit union's experience.
"If you are doing it properly, it really is a matter of seconds in terms of the time difference," he said. "Compared to the time it takes to scan checks at the end of the day, and the time associated with tracking down fraudulent items or correcting errors after the member has left the credit union, those few extra seconds are really a non-issue."
Advances in fraud detection also have helped convince one well-known technologist in the credit union industry that teller capture is the way to go.
"From a member service point of view the original thought was to do it in a branch format to free up teller time and allow your front line to focus on giving great service," said James Burke-Frazier at Wescom Resources Group in Pasadena, Calif. "I used to agree with this, until I've seen some of the amazing processes related to real-time submittal of the check to Primary Payment Systems looking for fraud.
"Helping our members avoid fraud and fees is an important part of quality member service, at least in my opinion, and as the ability to analyze and prevent fraud improves, the need to do this before the check is into the member's account becomes more important."
However, another major provider of imaging solutions said it is not seeing a mass movement to teller capture. Jon Reneslacis, director of solutions engineering for VSoft Corp. in Atlanta, which has products in place at more than 1,500 credit unions, said his company is experiencing that migration "in select credit unions only and not as a wholesale segment shift."
Reneslacis said credit unions with predictably low check volume have an easier time implementing teller capture than those with variable check volume. The latter are maintaining back-counter capture solutions, "as the risk of excessive queues for members in the branches is not worth the teller trade-off."
The VSoft director added that back-counter capture solutions are better suited for handling batch volumes than front-counter solutions, a consideration for credit unions that anticipate increased business and commercial member activity.
Wilhelm at Boston-based Aite Group said financial institutions should choose where the image is captured, including at ATMs and home and business scanners, "based on their service philosophy as much as the technology."
"Each organization is a little different and they're going to have to figure out which options are best for them, and they have to make sure that the focus is on the customer and the member, not necessarily the processing environment," he said.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Although the end result is essentially the same, there are some distinct differences between capturing a check image at the teller counter and capturing it in the back shop. Here are some characteristics of each channel, according to Jon Reneslacis, director of solutions engineering at VSoft Corp.
Teller capture allows complete transaction processing at the teller line, including credit posting, on-us debit posting and check imaging. When the member leaves the teller window, the transaction is finalized and the teller has only to ensure check safekeeping. However, check capture, MICR correction and image quality verification "are not always functions for which the teller has been hired or repeatedly trained," Reneslacis pointed out.
With branch or back-counter capture, the credit union reaps the benefits of large-volume batch capture and can even capture items from multiple tellers in a single capture flow. "As opposed to having every teller be versed and proficient in check capture, it is possible that a smaller number of users at each branch will need to be conversant in the capture and keying solution," Reneslacis said.