Q&A: Why PNC Jumped into Augmented Reality

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For banks, augmented reality is undoubtedly cutting edge — it even sounds cool. But when applied to ATM locators, it's questionable how many people really want to see a live street view image of an ATM they will be visiting in ten minutes, much less walk around while waving their mobile phones like a wand.

For Tom Trebilcock, vice president of ebusiness and payments at PNC (PNC), there's value in making the bank look hip by embracing technology that at first glance is not necessarily connected to banking. He spoke with BTN on Thursday about how augmented reality can be used to not only help people find PNC locations, but to position PNC as a tech-savvy brand.

To use what the bank calls PNC Finder, consumers launch the app and hold the phone vertically. The app uses GPS coordinates to find the user's location and search for nearby ATMs or branches. Instead of getting what looks like an "old school" MapQuest view, the users instead gets a much more visual live-feed view of the ATM or branch. The app also calculates the distance from the user's current position.

The power of augmented reality also opens up other possibilities of multimedia content that can be accessed by linking a branch or ATM location to marketing or other visual or text information; there are also ties to mobile gaming. Banks are considering how gaming can impact a variety of activities, such as financial management, payments and finding new ways to engage consumers, particularly younger groups. By introducing augmented reality now, PNC is recognizing a trend in general mobile technology and is bringing that into banking, where its use and be expanded later if and when consumer uptake increases.

It's getting a little company. US Bank (USB) is piloting a similar locator app, and Halifax, a division of Lloyds (LLOY), last week introduced a home finder mobile app that allows people to view and pull data on houses for sale as they pass them on the street.

BTN: ATM and branch locators are staples of mobile banking apps. What makes finding ATMs by using augmented reality different and better?

Trebilcock: It's a more visual view. You can hold the mobile phone up and the image that comes through will be projected on the screen. We will overlay the location of branches and ATMs. You may look a little odd walking down the street and holding the phone up, but you can pan around to actually see the nearest branch and ATM. And by [moving the phone to navigate its camera] you can use it more like a radar…where your position is in the middle and you can find ATMs from your fixed location like air traffic controllers looking at planes landing.

Is there an existing, active demand for this type of function?

Customers weren't asking for it. We have traditional ATM and branch locators in our mobile banking apps. Augmented reality is more of a showcase of what mobile technology can permit. And it gives PNC a chance to show that we are a tech leader, so we were trying to develop something that's meant to be a little fun and not necessarily connected to hardcore banking.

How do you pick your spots when it comes to offering technology that doesn't have a pre-existing use case for banking, but is a showcase of cool innovation that can draw attention to the bank?

The genesis of the augmented reality ATM finder came from the gaming area. PNC is interested in younger demographics as part of our virtual wallet product, and gaming is popular in that segment. If you are familiar with gaming, a lot of it is done in a first person perspective — that is people directly engage the content personally.

What is the path between the popularity of gaming to getting people to use augmented reality for banking?

A lot of people are now going through the process of calculating how to make mobile devices more useful to them. Finding a branch [by aiming the phone at an area] isn't going to solve world peace, but occasionally the need arises. If you are in a different, unfamiliar city, you may get this out to find an ATM, and it may prove to be useful and a little fun, fun enough to have some viral capability, we hope.

Other banks are experimenting with the technology embedded in new generations of mobile devices. Are there other types of mobile technology that interest you as a banker?

I find remote deposit capture interesting. Who would have thought that you could take a picture of a check and present it for deposit? And the phone has a build in location capability. So I think you'll see financial institutions and other retailers using the GPS capability, along with transaction preferences to deliver messages, such as information about businesses that you may want to do business with or that may have special offers.

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