Repetitive yet necessary tasks such as counting cash and scanning checks steal away precious time that branch employees could be devoting to servicing their members.
While the spread of cash recycling and check scanning equipment has already freed workers’ hands significantly, credit unions can expect to see branch automation technology take another step forward in 2013.
According to Glen Fossella, chief operating officer for global cash recycler and check scanner manufacturer CTS North America, those machines are beginning to move from the back office to the front, leaving back office workers with more time to focus on member service-centric tasks.
“As back-office functions begin to move to the teller window, manual operations are being squeezed out the door, and the back office will become more of an extension of serving the member,” Fossella said. “You’ll start to see back-office staff providing support to the member instead of doing mundane tasks.”
When the Wixom, Mich.-based CTS entered the U.S. market around five years ago, deploying check scanners for use in the back office quickly became a standard at financial institutions, Fossella said. But don’t expect them to stay there for long.
“Back office use of check scanners is on the way out, and that is happening pretty fast,” Fossella said.
Why? For one, the newest versions of check scanning machines are faster and more reliable than they were in the past, which means tellers can utilize them in branch transactions without holding up their members, Fossella explained, adding many financial institutions are now processing in-branch check deposits in real time. The same level of improvement goes for cash recycling machines, which are becoming smaller and less likely to break down or jam.
Additionally, Fossella said thanks to the rising popularity of electronic banking, member foot traffic has dwindled in branches, leaving more time for tellers to take that extra step of scanning and processing checks at their windows.
High-volume cash management machines are also moving out from behind the scenes and into branch lobbies, although they’re most likely to make it into the lobbies of financial institutions that handle a large number of business transactions, Fossella said.
One credit union that can testify to the benefits of cash recycling machines is the $704.9 million Melrose, Minn.-based Central Minnesota Credit Union, which began deploying one or more ARCA CM18 cash recyclers in its branches three years ago and plans to have at least one in every branch by June 2013, said Jason MacDonald, director of information technology for Central Minnesota CU. ARCA, based in Mebane, N.C., is CTS’ U.S. distribution partners for cash recycling.
The cash recyclers replaced teller cash drawers and the need to manually balance cash inventories at the credit union and also led to increased workplace efficiencies and fully accurate cash balances from every employee, MacDonald said. For example, since the recyclers also act as vaults, fewer vault management tasks are required, which has allowed the credit union to cut back on staff scheduling.
“We’ve peeled back on staffing at our smaller branches,” MacDonald said. “Since the recycler is a vault, we don’t need someone managing vault access, so we only need one employee in at a time instead of two.”
The recyclers have also lightened up workloads and thus shifted employees’ focuses to members, MacDonald noted.
“In the past, we had to balance our cash drawers throughout the day, and sometimes they didn’t balance,” MacDonald said. “And if they didn’t, we’d have to take extra time at the end of the day to figure out why. Employees really like the fact that once their shifts are over, they can pack up and leave.”
Another emerging trend in branch automation is the creation and distribution of instant-issue payment cards at the teller window, Fossella said. With payment card production technology now available in smaller, more efficient machines with direct integrations to core banking systems, financial institutions are beginning to issue cards in single window transactions. One major benefit of the trend is that it puts payment cards into circulation quickly, he pointed out.
“Since the member doesn’t have to wait weeks for the card to arrive in the mail, the credit union can begin reaping the benefits of transaction fees right away,” Fossella said.
As automation technology continues to develop, employee job descriptions will be less about processing transactions and more about providing quality service; that’s true not just at financial institutions, but in many industries, said Kirk Nelson, associate vice president of ARCA’s OEM Solutions.
“From ARCA’s perspective, we’re seeing a move toward automation in general,” Nelson said. “More self-service kiosks are being used, for example in grocery stores and movie theaters. With the pressure of working the booth taken off employees, they can focus better on their customers’ needs.”