Why One Credit Union Has Put Big Focus On Its ATMs

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All eyes are on ATMs, and it's about time, according to Arkansas FCU here.

This $245 million credit union has offered advanced functionality since 1996, noted CEO Hank Klein.

The Credit Union Journal reported recently that the financial industry's steadfast technology has reentered the limelight, featuring advanced functionality and compliance with Triple DES security mandates.

And Boston-based research firm Celent Communications projected that advanced functionality will attract the unbanked with features such as check cashing, while Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup said ATMs will bring in revenue from non-traditional financial services such as ticket sales.

AFCU isn't one to argue, though its rationale for highlighting the technology is, in some ways, unique.

"Advanced functionality is something we're providing to make our ATMs stand out from the crowd," Klein explained. Operated on an in-house intercept processing system, AFCU's fleet comprises 15 decked-out machines. At AFCU's main branch, an advanced ATM even occupies its seventh teller window.

That may not be surprising, seeing as the ATMs get more transaction action than do AFCU's tellers.

Performing an average 168,000 transactions every month, the machines surpass teller transactions at AFCU by 240%, said Klein.

"Before 1996, we had old ATMs with old functions that had been around for years," he continued.

AFCU decided it was time to focus on its ATMs, with the philosophy that "we buy the latest teller platforms, and we spend a lot on members inside the credit union, so we also should be spending on our ATMs."

Just what do the advanced ATMs deliver? "All our machines talk," Klein said. "They cash checks and perform withdrawals to the penny. Members can make loan payments and print mini-statements. All the ATMs have color receipts and screens with our branding and campaigns. They display open or closed signs, and have 911 emergency buttons."

That array of functions means "more chances for members to do more things," he said.

Disabled members can take advantage of voice assistance, starring the same voice members hear on AFCU's telephone audio response system. "There's consistency there," said Klein.

Loan payments can be made directly or from a member's account. And when a member deposits any check, an intelligent depository authenticates it by reading the MICR line. Then, the ATM screen shows the member an image of the check.

The 911 emergency button gives members an "additional feeling of safety." The color receipts have coupons from local retailers and educate members by advertising the advanced functions of the ATM.

AFCU offers the advanced functionality at no extra charge to members, except for mini-statement printing, said Klein. "We wanted to offer mini-statement printing, but did not want a lot of members just getting information at the expense of other members standing in line wanting to do transactions. So we charge $1.00 for each mini-statement."

Even AFCU's advanced ATMs don't meet Triple DES security mandates, however. "Our machines will have to be upgraded just like everyone else's," he said.

Along with debit cards and Internet transactions, Klein said AFCU's ATMs are "providing members more access to their accounts, while keeping teller transactions at the same level."

He added that the machines pose "no problems balancing and don't get sick or go on vacation."

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