A View To A Till: What CU Tellers Think

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Why don't teller counters have rounded edges? You'd have to be a teller-or an architect who's talked to one-to know.

Those with a teller's-eye view of a branch know that if you put rounded edges on a counter, every time you try to count coins into your hand, you'd miss, because the coin will follow the curve of the counter and drop out of sight, instead of into your waiting hand.

For every innovation and renovation at a credit union, it is the teller who is most likely to be affected by that change, and it is the teller's sometimes unenviable job of having to introduce that change to the members. What do tellers think of some of the changes with which they've had to deal? The Credit Union Journal asked tellers to talk about some of the innovations at their facilities that have really had an effect on how they are able to serve the member.

At the top of the list: cash dispensers. Every teller interviewed spoke lovingly of the machine that eliminates the need for a teller to reach into the cash drawer and count out money for the member.

"It makes the process faster. I don't have to get it out of the drawer," said Dawn Cox, head teller of Fort Knox FCU, Radcliff, Ky. "We still count it when we hand it to the member, but we've never had a machine dispense the wrong amount. It makes the tellers more comfortable. You really only have to worry about the money coming in, instead of the money you're handing out."

Cox noted the cash dispensers were among the tellers' most favorite features at the new headquarters facility designed by HBE, St. Louis.

The Drive (You Crazy) Through

Not everything has the universal appeal of the cash dispensers, however, even something that's been around "forever," such as drive-throughs.

"It's different for different people and at different branches. The drive-through is faster paced. You're handling much less- complicated transactions but more of them. Being on the teller line itself, you have to deal with the more complicated transactions like problem accounts or money orders, but you don't have that same fast, fast pace," said Cindy Searcy, head teller at Commonwealth CU, Frankfort, Ky. "At some of our branches, the way it's set up, if you come in to open up the drive-through you get the better hours because you get to leave early, so at those branches, it's like a reward."

As head teller, Searcy has been to all of the CU's branches, a number of which were designed by NewGround Resources, St. Louis.

Several tellers pointed out that one of the nice things about not being at a standard teller counter is having a little extra distance between themselves and the members, because while they love their members, some can get downright nasty when something goes wrong, and that distance-even if it's just a pane of glass at the drive-through-can be a blessing. "Especially when it's something that we really can't help them with at the drive-through and we have to say, 'I'm sorry, but you're going to have to come on inside so we can help you with that,' " one teller suggested.

Drive-throughs aren't the only means of giving tellers a little more personal space and a little less face time. Remote teller systems, also called video tellers, are another.

"They're wonderful," Cox enthused. "We have two located just between the doors, so members don't even have to come inside the lobby if they don't want to. It really is more convenient for them."

Of course, sometimes, it can be a hard sell to get a member to use the video teller, because the technology can be off-putting.

"We try to encourage people to use them. Sometimes we have to really show them how it works and explain that there really is a real person on the other side of the screen," she observed. "But members who have tried them really like them, and when they see someone standing in line at the regular counter, they'll call out, 'It's faster over here, you should try it.' That means more than anything we try to tell them, sometimes."

Enjoying The Tradition

While most tellers seem to prefer working at the drive-through or at the video teller, there are some who are very happy to get back to the traditional teller line, she noted. "It's a little bit more personable. We have regulars who come in every week just to say hi, but they don't feel like they can do that at the video teller," Cox explained. "The video teller is really supposed to be an express service to help get people in an out, so it doesn't invite that kind of thing."

In a traditional teller situation, there might be some time to chat while a member is filling out a deposit slip, for example, but with the remote teller system, there's less downtime, because while one member is preparing his side of the transaction, the teller can be greeting the next member or finishing up an earlier transaction.

And not all of the things at a branch that makes a teller's life easier is high tech. Sometimes, it can be something as downright low tech as a queue line.

"One of our facilities does not have a queue line, and I'm sure some of the tellers at that location wish they did. They wish they could go back and put one in," Searcy said. "But it was the first branch we built, and we didn't have one here (at the headquarters), so it was sort of an unknown factor. But what we found out was that when you don't have queue line, people don't exactly know where to go. You just have them piling up in lines, and it's unorganized and people can hear other people's business, so it's a privacy issue, and it puts a little more pressure on the tellers."

Commonwealth has been sure to put queue lines in all its subsequent branches, she noted, and added that innovations that prove popular at new facilities are then expanded into the credit union's other facilities.

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