I think this is one technology I could do without.
Bank of America recently announced it was rolling out video ATMs — automated teller machines enabled to offer video chat with a live representative — starting with Boston and Atlanta, and eventually other markets.
On paper, it's a great idea. Want to withdraw $27.42 from the machine instead of only $20 or $40? No problem. Need to take a partial cash draw off a check, and deposit the rest? Easy peasy. And if you can't get to the bank during daytime hours, you can still chat with a live person at these kiosks before work, starting at 7 a.m., or after, until 10 p.m. And in the future, you'll also be able to split up ATM deposits into an array of accounts, or make your mortgage or credit card payments at the terminals.
Terrific, except for one thing: If you thought the wait inside the bank for a teller was long, now you can brace yourself for an equally excruciating queue in front of the very machines that were supposed to offer a speedier alternative for simple transactions.
In other words, this is going to make the fast task of tapping an ATM a total time-suck.
Not that those features aren't handy, but other banks' initiatives cover many of those in a much more efficient way via automation. Wells Fargo is upgrading its ATMs with customized menus based on the cardholder's most used transactions. And JPMorgan Chase is integrating advanced payment functions in ATMs, which can dole out bills in different denominations. The best part of these efforts is that it curtails any chance of a sweet old lady clogging up the line to talk about the weather with a friendly face.
Add the fact that online banking can already offer real-time chats with representatives, and related mobile apps are quite robust these days. Many of them can currently handle check deposits, transfers, bill payment and more. In fact, the only reason I ever go to an ATM is to pull out actual cash — the one task that mobile apps and websites can't touch.
No doubt, the longer hours that a video ATM would provide will be helpful for some, but it's going to drag the whole cash-machine experience down for everyone if it catches on. And it very well might. This could be a step on the road for banks getting rid of physical branches and teller windows altogether. Plenty of online-only financial institutions are doing well with that model, so it's no wonder that traditional banks would eye that jealously.
I hope I'm wrong. Apparently Asian markets — where institutions like Citibank have video ATMs — are making it work. Would it work here in the U.S.? Well, we're about to see.