In my 30-plus years in the credit union industry, I have never seen times quite like this! Oh yes, we’ve seen ups and downs, I recall in the `80s we were making auto loans at 21% and paying 18% on Money Market Accounts, but who could have predicted that paying 2% on Money Market Accounts would be a premium rate and we would be lucky to charge 5% or less on auto loans. And just making auto loans is the good news. We’re now seeing loan-to-share ratios plummet.and where do we put our excess deposit funds not loaned out – investments, investments that pay 2% on a good day. Because of this spreads are being hammered like never before, affecting our ability to support existing overhead and severally restricting operational expansion. This is a technology article, so why am I talking about finances? We’re not alone with narrow margins, we’re experiencing what many other industries are experiencing in these tight and uncertain economic times, narrower and narrower spreads, or like the airline industry, negative spreads. The airline industry had a double whammy, the economy and 9/11, and consequently the airline industry is bleeding lots and lots of red ink. So what happens when spreads get too thin, it starts affecting day-to-day operations and our ability to support our overhead? And what’s our largest overhead – labor. And where is our largest labor costs, the teller line. That’s exactly what the airlines identified, only their teller line is called the check-in how were they able to continue to provide service and at the same time reduce head count and labor costs.self-service kiosks. I live in the land of Delta, and use Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. At Hartsfield a year ago there was a long check-in counter and a few self-service kiosks, today there is a long line of self-service kiosks and a much, much shorter check-in counter. And I know through first hand experience, checking in using the kiosks is at least twice as fast as previously checking in with a live agent. It’s not just the airlines that have realized the value of self-service to control labor costs and improve efficiency, many other industries are realizing the benefits of self-service as well. My wife tested self-service check out at the grocery store about six months ago, and now she won’t settle for anything less – and my wife’s not technical, trust me. Even the local movies have introduced self-service kiosks, and I actually see longer lines now at those kiosks then I do at the box office. because the kiosk lines move faster. Self-service has had a checkered history, especially in the financial services industry, but it was more that the technology wasn’t stable enough in the past and not properly introduced to the public, rather then not being a good concept. In fact, it’s proved to be a phenomenal concept for credit unions that understand, introduce and use the technology properly. The real key is to invest in its introduction. I’m not talking about the capital investment; I’m talking about the investment in the introduction of the technology to members and staff. But once it’s up and running, think of the benefits. Staff and member acceptance and education are key to a successful kiosk program. Staff needs to be assured the kiosks are not simply there to replace them but to make their jobs easier. Many firms new to self-service machines that simply replace staff with machines, find, much to their dismay, that people still want to see people when they go to a branch. The kiosks are there to complement the staff and maximize their use in servicing members. Knowing this, some of our credit union clients take the approach that the kiosks would handle the routine tasks, i.e., deposits, withdrawals, etc., allowing staff more time to build relationships with members. They remove teller lines was and undergo significant education efforts and offer personal demos to help transition members to use the kiosks. What if credit unions were able to off load 50% or more of their repetitive over-the-counter teller traffic to self-service, and then staff facilities with fewer tellers, but pay them better? Theoretically this would attract and retain higher caliber staff and reduce training and turnover costs. Then use the more qualified staff for better cross-selling and dealing with exceptional member issues. The investment made to introduce and make the member feel comfortable with self-service could reap huge benefits, especially if the facility is open and available after normal staffed business hours. One credit union our firm works with that uses self-service, closes the staff work area after normal business hours, and leaves the rest of the facility open for after hours member self-service. The branch manager reports that over 60% of all transactions are actually performed after staffed business hours, hours that are obviously convenient to the members. Credit unions that get into kiosks usually agree on one thing: the kiosk is a fixed cost for the most part; the more members use it, the lower the per transaction cost, so it’s in a credit union’s best interest to get members to use kiosks; the kiosks don’t come to work late, don’t ask for a raise, don’t have an attitude, and love to do the same thing accurately, over and over again.

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