On-screen, remote teller could be the future of banking

Michelle Gearinger, member experience manager at First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union’s branch on Crawford Drive in Bethlehem Township, demonstrates how to withdraw money from an interactive transaction machine with the on-screen assistance of Millie Torres. Torres is in the credit union’s Allentown branch. - (Photo / Stacy Wescoe)

With a light touch of the screen, Millie Torres’ face appears and asks, “What can I help you with this afternoon?”

While the customer can be at any of the three First Federal Credit Union branches in the Greater Lehigh Valley that have onsite ITMs, Torres is sitting in the credit union’s Allentown office waiting to help – remotely – with a smile.

If the term ITM sounds familiar, it should. ITM stands for interactive transaction machines, which isn’t too far off from their inspiration: the ATM, or automatic teller machine.

The service that ITMs offer, however, is a bit different. It’s taking a page from traditional ATM accessibility and in-person teller service.

The ITMs offer the same services as an ATM, but with a person via video who can answer any questions or offer the help of a live in-person teller. (First Commonwealth likes to call tellers member experience associates.)

Between expanding hours of service, speeding transactions, boosting its image and eventually expanding the credit union’s physical footprint, First Commonwealth has high hopes for the hybrid machines.

Tricia Szurgot, chief marketing and retail officer for First Commonwealth, said her institution is the first in the Greater Lehigh Valley to employ the ITMs. With its hybrid of technology and face-to-face communications, it is the future of banking, she said.

“We will eventually be converting all of our locations,” Szurgot said. “We have also been tasked with looking to open two additional locations [branches] this year, which will have ITMs.”


There are eight ITMs in three of First Commonwealth’s eight locations. They are in the Bethlehem Township branch on Crawford Drive, the Nor-Bath branch on William Penn Highway near Easton and the soon-to-open Lehighton branch in Carbon Plaza.

They are placed inside the branches, to add an extra set of hands when associates are busy, and outside at drive-up kiosks. The credit union in effect expanded its hours by 13½ hours per week through the use of the ITMs.

The terminals can still be used as traditional, nonvideo-assisted ATMs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Michelle Gearinger, member experience manager at the Bethlehem Township location, the first to get the ITMs, said they have proven to be timesavers.

“The traditional drive-thru, with the tube vacuum, took an average of five minutes for a transaction,” she said. “With the ITMs, it’s down to two-and-a-half minutes. That’s half the time.”


Szurgot said looking into the future, First Commonwealth could have ITM locations off-site from its traditional credit unions, in a hub-and-spoke model from each branch location.

That would give customers more access to its services and expand its image across the Lehigh Valley.

Szurgot said that even the stand-alone ITM kiosk that the credit union has in the parking lot of Carbon Plaza helps with marketing.

“It expands our visual footprint where people can see us,” she said.


And as for the ease of use, the ITMs are designed just for that, Gearing said.

At her branch, she will always assist a customer the first time he or she uses one of the branch’s ITMs and she’s received an overwhelmingly positive response from people using them.

“They think it’s very futuristic,” Gearinger said. “At first, they’ll say that they’ll ‘try’ it, but when they use it, you always see a big smile.”


Gearinger also noted the security features of ITMs that can be customized to the level of the customer’s comfort.

For example, if the customer doesn’t want to say how much he is withdrawing to the associate on the screen, there is a chat function in which everything can be typed.

The customer also can use an attached phone to speak, or adjust the volume of the ITM speaker to a comfortable level.

The next First Commonwealth branch to get ITMs will be the Fogelsville branch at the intersection of Interstate 78 and Route 100.

And someday soon, Szurgot hopes customers will find the ITMs in locations from area malls to grocery stores and beyond.

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