Why 1 Piece Of No-Frills Technology Is Worth The Change

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In a land ruled by ACH transfers and the dollar, it's hard to count on coins.

Yet $10-billion in coins is trapped in pickle jars and piggy banks across the nation, according to estimates made by De La Rue Cash Systems, a UK-based firm that develops coin equipment.

Problem is that few financial institutions offer their customers an easy way to count and cash that coin.

Only 25% of U.S. credit unions offer automated coin-counting services, according to a study conducted by CUNA in 2004. Smaller credit unions are even less likely to offer automated coin counting, CUNA reported.

Coin-counting automation often gets a bad rap. At the recent BAI Retail Delivery Conference in Las Vegas, a member of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cornerstone Advisors team gave the big yawn to new ATMs with coin-counters and wondered-where's the market?

THE CU of Palm Beach County is one the few smaller credit unions that can get behind coin-counting services. The $72-million CU allows members to automatically count coin in self-service machines.

"There's a misperception about coin-counting services," said Judith Dugo, special projects manager at THE CU of Palm Beach County. "Even some of the credit unions in our region that are larger don't have coin-counters. They're really missing out."

Members have come to count on the CU's coin-sorter, Dugo said. The machine sorts about $8,000 in coins per month, up from an average $3,000 per month in 2003, Dugo said.

About 100 members fill the hopper with their spare change every week, she continued.

Coin-counting machines are a sign of better member service, Dugo explained. "The machine saves time for the member and the employee.

"Before we had coin-counting machines, we accepted paper wrappers of coin," she said. "Tellers would have to verify the rolls and write in the member account number. It was very time-consuming."

Members are impressed with the counting services, Dugo said. For instance, after depositing $1,700 in coins from a charity, one member recently opened three new accounts, including a business account, she said.

Daily maintenance on the machines is minimal, she said. The machines alert tellers to switch out full coin bags. Secure carriers then ship the coin and automatic receipts along with other CU deposits. "There's very little time commitment," added Dugo.

The CU stationed the coin-counter in the main branch lobby and allows members to use the machine themselves, Dugo said. The self-service approach is rare-at 80 % of the credit unions offering automated coin-counting, tellers fill the hoppers behind their stations, reported CUNA.

Dugo favors self-service, saying it can be more efficient and enhance sales efforts.

"It can be very time consuming for the teller to put the coin in the hopper and wait," Dugo explained. "Self-service keeps the member involved. While the members wait for the machine to sort the coin, a marketing representative or greeter can talk to them and offer other services."

Members count coin for free at CU of Palm Beach County. However, some other area grocery stores, banks and credit unions are charging up to 10% of the total counted, Dugo said.

The two-branch CU paid about $20,000 for its coin-counting machine in 2002, Dugo said.

CUJ Resources

For more info on this story:

* THE CU of Palm Beach County at www.thecu.coop

* De La Rue Cash Systems at www.delarue.com.

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