<p>SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Members at two San Antonio credit union branches are getting a taste of high technology which may soon be making its way into everyday American life, from automated teller machines to airport security devices to driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards. Both the San Antonio City Employees Federal Credit Union (SACEFCU) and Security Services Federal Credit Union (SSFCU) have installed biometric access devices in their safe deposit vault areas at one of their branches. The devices, which read hand geometry, are among a wave of biometrics equipment being rolled out by manufacturers which can identify people through everything from iris scans and facial recognition to fingerprints and voice verification. While the idea of using biometrics – identifying individuals using biological traits such as fingerprints or retina scans – has been discussed for several years, the technology has attracted more widespread attention in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. In San Antonio, the move to biometrics was prompted by a desire to better serve members and to increase efficiency at the branch locations, according to credit union officials there. The biometrics system was installed in new branches which were designed to be high-tech, including the use of remote tellers in both the lobby and drive-through. "We've been at the leading edge of advanced technology to make life a little more convenient for our members as well as make our operations a little more efficient," said John Worthington, a senior vice president with Security Services. SSFCU is the second largest credit union in Texas with $2.4 billion in assets and 450,000 members. Both SSFCU and SACEFCU ($202 million in assets, 34,000 members) installed biometrics access systems in their safe deposit area. After initially signing up for a safe deposit box, a member is issued a personal identification number and a scan of their hand is taken. When they return to gain entry to their box, they simply enter their PIN, place their hand on the scanning device and, if a match, they gain entry to the vault area where they use their key to access their safe deposit box. No credit union employees are required to be present, freeing them up for other tasks. That also means that members do not have to wait to be served, resulting in what branch manager Laura Rodriguez calls a "win-win situation for the member and the credit union." "They (members) don't need any assistance," Worthington agreed. "It makes it a much speedier transaction for the member. They're not dependent on having to wait for a member service representative who might be tied up with somebody else. It also does away with the dual key requirement. "It really gives the member some freedom that he doesn't have otherwise," Worthington added. "People in this day and age with online banking and electronic bill pay want to have the freedom to do the things that they can do without any assistance. These things that we can automate will help make their life a little easier and it reduces our staff requirements." Rodriguez agreed. "With the efficiencies we gain, those customer service representatives are now able to work on other things such as loan applications to bring in revenue," said Rodriguez, manager at SACEFCU's Northwest branch where biometrics has been implemented. The credit union has four branches but biometrics is only being used at the Northwest location. That facility was opened in October. The SSFCU branch, Bandera/1604, was opened in August and it too, is the credit union's only branch to employ biometrics. Both Rodriguez and Worthington noted that their credit unions strived to educate members about the new technology prior to it being unveiled. Articles about the technology appeared in credit union newsletters as well as in the local media. Members were given tours of the facility and shown how it works. "I think when we first opened that (Northwest) branch people were kind of tentative about using the high-tech features, but they really like it now because they can help themselves in and out of the branch," said Eve Hernandez, vice president of marketing for SACEFCU. "The secret to having this kind of technology or the remote teller technology is to have your staff well acquainted with the capabilities and then basically when a member comes in to take them through that as opposed to letting them discover it on their own," Worthington advised. Both Worthington and Rodriguez said they have heard only positive comments from members about biometrics used in the vault area. At SACEFCU's branch, nearly all of the more than 100 boxes have been sold; some members transferred to the branch because of the security feature while others moved to the branch because it was closer to where they lived or worked. SSFCU experienced a similar migration of members when its new branch opened. The vault area has more than 700 boxes; all of the larger boxes were sold out even before the branch's formal grand opening, Worthington reported. "It's been very positive," he said of member reaction. "Members have taken to it very well. They like the additional freedom and empowerment it gives them to deal with their belongings." According to the International Biometric Group, a New York-based integration and consulting firm, biometrics is being looked at or implemented by a growing number of financial services firms. In early May, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require states to include biometric data on encrypted microchips in driver's licenses and state-issued ID cards. [email protected]</p>

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