Forget ATMs, Patriot Bank experiments with ITMs

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Visitors to the Patriot Bank ATM opening in March at the Trumbull Mall could be in for a surprise. The ATM is actually an ITM, or Interactive Teller Machine, where customers will interact via video screen with a Patriot employee.

“You can do a lot more with an ITM than with an ATM,” said Chris Johnson, senior vice president and director of branch banking at Patriot. “It goes beyond just being more conversational. It’s not just about withdrawing cash or making deposits. You can open an account, cash a check, deposit cash and checks in one transaction and have someone helping you through the whole process.”

ITMs can allow a customer to prove his identity by producing a driver’s license or other form of identification for scanning, should they not have their debit or ATM card with them; allow the dispensing of money in various denominations (not just $20 bills, as with most ATMs), including coins; and allow banks to extend their hours to provide more convenience. Additional features include a video camera near eye level and a pad for signatures, along with the familiar receipt printer, card reader and PIN pad.

Patriot is viewing the standalone mall kiosk as a pilot for possible further expansion; it’s had two in its Darien branch at 233 Post Road since last July, alongside regular ATMs and staff.

“I was surprised at how easy it was to use,” Richard A. Muskus, executive vice president and chief lending officer, said of his first experience with a Darien ITM. “It’s often much quicker to use — instead of having to press a lot of buttons or touch screens for each transaction, you’re talking with a real person.”

The executives said they believed Patriot to be the first community bank in Connecticut to try out ITMs. “Some major national banks may have the technology,” Johnson said.

Indeed, the likes of Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America have been experimenting with ITMs in certain domestic and international markets, but not in Connecticut. Otherwise it appears that smaller regional firms such as Bank Midwest, headquartered in Pierce, Nebraska; PCSB, based in Clarinda Iowa; and Sussex County Federal Credit Union in Seaford, Delaware, are leading the way.

Patriot’s ITMs are staffed by its call center staff of five, who are in Westport but will soon be moving to Stamford.

While the kiosk at the Trumbull Mall at 5065 Main St. will replace the branch about 2.5 miles away at 943 White Plains Road, branch staffers will be reassigned to other branches and all of its customer accounts will be physically transferred to the nearby Fairfield branch at 1755 Black Rock Turnpike. The mall ITM is expected to go live in March, while the Trumbull branch will close on April 15.

Johnson said that customer feedback in Darien has been mostly positive, adding that plenty of reviewing of the Trumbull Mall ITM will occur before a decision is made about introducing one in its other five Fairfield County branches, its two Westchester County banks or its Milford branch.

If ITMs prove to be the wave of the future for the Stamford-based bank, what will that mean for employees? 

“If we do add more ITMs, then we’ll need more people in our call center,” Muskus said. “The job itself will remain basically the same.”

“Our vision is that this technology is meant to complement, not replace, existing staff,” Johnson said. “We want to add something that will surprise and delight our customers, which will help build our footprint.”

“This technology can help enhance our image and help build our customer base,” Muskus said.

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