Credit Union Deploys 'Bank in a Box' for the Underbanked

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Centris Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Neb., is turning to kiosk technology to lure the underbanked.

"We see kiosks as solving a problem for the underserved community," says Laura Castro de Cortes, the credit union's vice president of alternative financial services. "We can stay open longer and be in more locations, so that people can perform financial transactions on their own time and not on our time. And we can also provide service in their own language."

The underbanked segment is growing in importance given its size (more than one in 10 Americans are classified as underbanked) and the pressure on financial institutions to raise revenue.

Centris has deployed eight self-service bilingual (English and Spanish) kiosks at branches and grocery stores in the Omaha area. It hopes the machines, which combine several financial services into a single interface, will be attractive to people who have to go to several places or use different processes to do things like pay their rent or cash their paychecks.

The boxes are provided by Nexxo. Among other things they allow customers to cash checks, order and load prepaid cards and top up phone minutes. The kiosks allow single-screen navigation and single login for all of these services. There's also a customer relationship management piece that allows information on repeat consumers to be accumulated for potential marketing and advisory purposes.

Consumers register at the kiosks and use the touch screen to conduct transactions, most of which can be completed in less than one minute and are remembered for that consumer on return visits. Phones on the kiosks let users contact live customer service.

Centris, which has assets of $500 million and 75,000 members, plans to soon offer a general-purpose reloadable card to provide easier swipe access at the kiosks, and serve as a gateway to a broader relationship with the credit union.

In the past few weeks Nexxo has deployed the terminals for Carver Federal Savings Bank in New York. The Harlem bank put them mainly in communities with low or moderate income.

Nexxo's platform integrates with financial institutions' back-end processes. The company hopes this will allow a range of financial services to be delivered to underbanked consumers at a lower cost to both the bank and consumer, and the integration also allows the platform to operate cross-functionally, doing bill pay, deposit and withdrawals at the same time.

"Underbanked services are very stovepiped," says Craig McDonald, senior vice president of sales and business development for Nexxo. "You have a check-cashing interface, a bill-pay interface, etc., and all of these services have their own siloed countertop … someone comes into the store to do a money transfer, stands in line, waits as the clerk fills out a form, conducts the transaction, and the customer comes in the next day and the whole process starts over again."

In the next few weeks Nexxo plans to expand its underbanked mobile services to include mobile remote deposit capture, and a desktop interface for Web banking is expected to be ready in the next few months. McDonald, whose company has a strategic partnership with Chexar-which is the processor behind Nexxo's check cashing transactions-says the ability to remember transactions lets the institution leverage information from prior transactions to suggest financial behaviors that improve overall financial health, which can be used to deepen relationships.

"The machines are easy to use, and people can go there and access services at any time," de Cortes says.

The credit union will also make call-center staff available — and on-site staff at certain times — to instruct consumers on how to use the machines and offer money management advice, building relationships that will eventually enable some consumers to become full members.

"One of the things that's a big turnoff in our community is the fact that some financial transactions take a long time, or that the institution is not accessible. This will hopefully address that," de Cortes says.

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