The traditional bank branch may be in line for an extreme makeover if Gene Pranger has his way.

Pranger’s company, uGenius Technology LLC, has developed and manufactured an intelligent-deposit ATM that not only accepts deposits envelope-free, it also incorporates a bank teller via a live video feed. The teller directs the customer through almost any type of transaction, be it a simple cash withdrawal or the purchase of a certified check.

The future bank branch could consist of several of these machines in a space smaller than the current branch model, which is some 6,000 square feet, Pranger tells PaymentsSource. “We’ve changed the dynamics of the branch environment,” he says.

On June 7, FirstOntario Credit Union in Canada unveiled its first uGenius machine, which it dubbed “PAT” for personal assistant teller. Coastal Federal Credit Union in North Carolina is using 50 uGenius machines and has been a customer since 2008.

UGenius initially decided to design and build a machine from scratch because the marketplace did not possess an ATM “considered to be intuitive to how customers go through the teller transaction process,” Pranger says.

But it recently developed teller-video software that can run on third-party machines manufactured and deployed by the traditional ATM heavyweights, including NCR Corp. and Diebold Inc. The hope is to place the leading ATM makers’ machines running on the software in larger banks, Pranger says.

“We’re in discussions with two of the top 10 banks in the country,” Pranger says, declining to reveal names.

An NCR spokesperson says the company constantly looks at new technology but did not have a specific comment about uGenius’ product. A Diebold representative was unavailable for comment.

UGenius’ machines cost between $50,000 and $60,000, which is comparable with other intelligent-deposit ATMs, Pranger says.

The Sandy, Utah-based company arranged study groups to dissect how consumers interact with a bank teller. “We put together a good consumer interface both in terms of what they see and how they conduct the transaction,” Pranger says.

The teller who appears on the ATM’s video screen is a bank employee located at a call center. FirstOntario had to retrain some of its tellers working with the new machines, according to David Schurman, the credit union’s chief operating officer.

“It’s almost like them being on TV,” he says.

First Ontario does not plan to replace its 19 branches with smaller ones housing the machines. “We do want to maintain that personal touch and have live people there to talk to if you want,” Schurman says.

But the machines give FirstOntario the opportunity to have a presence outside the traditional branch. The credit union wants to add a location at a new hospital being built in St. Catherines, Ontario, where it already has four branches.

“The plan is to open a kiosk with a couple of PAT machines and maybe one lender,” Schurman says. “It’s basically a three-person minibranch.”

FirstOntario faced some opposition from a bank teller union that was against the machines, but the credit union contends the devices actually help create jobs. “If you use the minibranch as an example, that’s three to four more employees right there,” Schurman says.

FirstOntario will not see the traditional branch fade away, but Pranger believes his machines will help bring more technology into the financial services environment.

“The days of the traditional bank teller are eventually going to be numbered,” he says. “It will most likely go the way of the airline agent at the airport where self-check in machines dominate.”

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