Walking The Talk

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Two credit unions are taking the lead-and proving that technology investment is not always about ROI-as they launch the nation's first talking ATMs via Diebold and NYCE Corp.

"We probably won't get any leverage off of the speech-enabled ATMs," said James St.Peter, manager of Technology and Operations at New England FCU. "We are launching the machines just because it's really the right thing to do. We have a true concern for members with disabilities."

The $490-million CU is the first CU on the NYCE debit card payments network to run Diebold's Opteva speech-enabled ATMs, St.Peter said.

New England FCU began rolling out the talking ATMs in November. The ATMs use ScanSoft's RealSpeak speech software and HTML files to guide transactions for customers who are blind or visually-impaired.

The Golden 1 CU, Sacramento, Calif. which was the beta-test location for Diebold's foray with ScanSoft, also considered members before profits when it started installing the software in January 2004. "We had occasional requests from our members for speech-enabled ATMs," said Ric Dannelley, Golden 1's senior VP-operations.

Neither credit union can tell if the new feature is a hit, however. The ATMs don't track whether a member uses the voice navigation. Members access the speech features by plugging a headset into the jack at the ATM.

Members aren't saying much, reported the two CUs. "We have had a few positive comments, but not as many as I had hoped for," Dannelley said.

Yet Golden 1 CU and New England Federal are doing more than attempting to speak to member needs as they install the talking ATMs. The speech-enabled machines comply with proposed revisions to the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 707 (Automated Teller Machines and Fare Machines).

New England FCU's ADA upgrades also coincided with upgrades for Triple DES security mandates, St.Peter said.

"If we're touching all these machines for Triple DES, it made sense for us to provide ADA compliance as well," he said.

The upgrade cost for New England Federal's 22 ATMs is about $9,000 each, which includes the $1,100 price tag for the sound boards for speech-enablement, said St.Peter.

New England Federal Credit Union has completed speech enablement at 30% of its ATMs, and will finish upgrading all machines by the end of the year, according to St.Peter.

The $5.5-billion-Golden 1 CU has audio-enabled nearly 40% of its 270 ATMs and will convert 30% more this year, Dannelley said.

ScanSoft's RealSpeak software uses text-to-speech, a format that reads computer text and turns it into audible voice. Text-to-speech makes it easy for the credit unions to write and edit the transaction navigation scripts, unlike WAV sound files that have to be re-recorded and loaded into each ATM.

"The WAV files sound a little more natural, but they're harder to change," St.Peter added.

Members using the audible features will hear exactly what someone would see when conducting any ATM transaction at New England FCU, including deposits, withdrawals, loan payments, and inquiries, St.Peter said.

CUJ Resources

For additional information:

* New England FCU at www.nefcu.com

* The Golden 1 CU at www.golden1cu.com

* American Disabilities Act at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm

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