Randomness (r_ness) wrote,

Bank of America's "ATM with Teller Assist" machines, from Diebold.

I just tried using one of Bank of America's "ATM with Teller Assist" machines. They've rolled 150 of these out in 61 locations around the United States. These use Diebold machines with integrated live videoconferencing. They've already inspired teller protests: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/bank-america-tellers-picket-atm-machines/story?id=20969888.

Right now, Bank of America's videoconferencing call centers are reportedly in Delaware and Jacksonville, Florida, but obviously, if they can teleconference, the tellers can be anywhere. Cebu in the Philippines is a popular place for call centers, as is Hyderabad in India. I imagine Diebold has to have made that a selling point, which in any case Bank of America can't fail to have noticed as well.

The selling point for me was that I'd be able to draw out money in other than $20s. They advertise that they issue $1s, $5s, $20s, and $100. (No love for $2s, $10s, or $50s, apparently.)

I'll say this right up front: my experience was a complete and abject fail.

I was hoping that I'd be able to simply use the machine, stocked as it obviously was with a variety of notes, and not have to interact with anyone. However, the branch manager who was hovering around trying to drum up business told me that in order to get the particular denominations I wanted I would have to talk to a teller. Strike one.

The first teller I talked to had connect problems in the first minute of the connection. "Do I need to hang up, or do you do that?" I asked. "I'll hang up," he said. I never saw him again. The screen went back to square one and I started with another teller. Strike two.

I told the second teller what I was here to do, withdraw money from my non-Bank of America account. It was difficult to hear him, and it was hard for him to hear me. This was clearly a recurring problem with these machines, because the first guy broke the connection because he was having audio problems as well.

Because I was doing a withdrawal from another bank, the teller asked me to put some ID in a scanner slot to my left. I put my drivers license in the slot and he presumably scanned it. In any case I had identified myself to his satisfaction so he could go ahead with the withdrawal. Already we had to go through a more complicated procedure than I would have had to do to simply withdraw money using my card, because I'd previously entered my PIN. But no matter. I was doing this as an experiment to try out the technology and this was useful data.

I asked for $750, my daily maximum withdrawal, but asked him what the ATM fee would be. I couldn't hear him clearly and thought he'd said $6. He'd actually said $3. I said my daily maximum was $750, so we probably wanted to draw something less than that so the ATM fee wouldn't put me over. He assured me, incorrectly, that this would be no problem, so through a process of mutual muddled incomprehension we settled on $756. This was the amount displayed on the screen as confirmation, and there was the usual "I agree to an extra $3 fee" button to push on the screen as well. I thought, "This isn't going to work because my bank isn't going to let me draw more than my daily maximum," but I let it go because we clearly were having communications problems, and this would sort itself out.

He attempted to put the withdrawal through, looked puzzled, and then apologized that the system had been unable to give me that amount. He proposed $750 instead. I said again that my daily maximum was $750 but he assured me that the ATM fee wouldn't count. I thought, "No, that's still not going to work, but maybe we can keep reducing the amount until we arrive at an amount my bank will release."

$750 (+$3 for the ATM fee) also failed. At this point the teller gave up, and said I should go inside the bank and talk to an live teller who might be able to help me. Strike three.

Now, if I wanted to talk to a live teller I could easily have done this some other way, but I was content to have failed entirely to get any money, since the point was to see how well this system worked. I felt I had definitely done that. Enough of everyone's time had already been wasted.

I went back to my computer and verified with my bank that no money has been withdrawn from my account, which was my only concern in all of this. (My bank rebates ATM fees.) I can go back to an old fashioned ATM and get some money that way, then walk into the branch and exchange it for the bills I want.

I'm unlikely to use their machines again. I'm also unlikely to be opening an account at Bank of America, despite the best efforts of the branch manager, who to his credit did stop his attempt to sell me on opening an account when I reached my multitasking limit with the machine.

I don't know how they fix their communications problem. I was in a relatively quiet ATM vestibule area, but the ambient noise still made it hard for me to hear the teller and the teller to hear me. It's not like they really want to turn up the volume on the speaker because I was already speaking up so the remote teller could hear me. There are multiple machines in this vestibule. At my raised speaking voice I could already be easily heard across the vestibule. If there had been anyone else trying to talk at another machine we would likely have interfered with each other. As it was anyone waiting nearby would know that I was soon to have $750 in cash on me. Not a happy result.

There is a handset next to the screen. It's labeled "optional". Were I to use the machine again I would definitely consider its use mandatory, but I still think I'd be able to be heard by another user. I think a closed booth is necessary for this system to offer both intelligibility and transaction security. If I had been trying to do anything more complicated I think the muddle could have been significantly worse.

Moreover, I am not the average user. I am reasonably technologically competent and was interested in giving this system a chance. If I think it fails, its chances of success with the average user can't be great.

All in all, I think my experience is a nice demonstration of the limits of videoconferencing, particularly in systems where cost and installation size are significant constraints.
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