At the $1.3 billion American Heritage Federal Credit Union in Philadelphia, Pa., Jackie Pickard serves members miles away remotely as a teller for the credit union's Personal Automated Teller (PAT).

Using software, she helps members from a distance complete more than 95 percent of typical branch transactions.

While video tellers like Pickard work at their computers, they interact with members at PAT machines, which resemble supersized ATMs. The credit union has deployed PAT machines since 2010 to allow people to withdraw cash in denominations of their choice, receive coins (but not coin rolls), pay bills, deposit checks and more with the help of remote tellers. The machines were originally purchased from uGenius, which was acquired by NCR Corp. in January of this year.

The hours go by and the transactions are steady and standard. A handful of agents take turns handling Skype-like experiences for offsite members while Meg Kenny, the call center supervisor, sits in the middle to help when needed. Members, who show no surprise at the experience, usually want to deposit payroll checks, take out money or inquire about their balances.

Pickard knows how to work a video call the way Serena Williams knows how to hit a tennis ball. In a floral top, glasses and a smile, Pickard projects Oprah's affable talent to connect easily with her guests.

Members' personalities shine through the video communications. After making a deposit, a man assures Pickard, "It's just going out of my hands and into my wife's hands." There are giggles. There are "thank you's."

Working Girl
Pickard, who has worked as a traditional teller and appeared on a fitness segment with her mom on the Steve Harvey show, serves as a traditional call center agent as well as a PAT teller. The former duties are performed in a nearby room that's decked out in birthday streamers, children's photographs, balloons and hoagie sandwiches for the agents.

Members videoing in tend to be kinder than when they call. "It's harder over the phone to know there's empathy," she says. "In video, they can see we are genuinely trying to help them solve issues."

If you're a video teller at AMHFCU, you have to be up for anything. Sometimes a man will ask you out to dinner. Sometimes playful children will video prank call you. Sometimes a screen without anyone in it will show up, and then a grown man will jump up from the ground.

Over the years, Pickard has learned some fashion lessons: don't wear shiny shirts. "You can wear bright colors and you can wear dark colors," she says. "I don't want to wear sparkles anymore because of the look on people's faces."

Excepting the bling, what now seems typical to members probably wasn't always so. Unlike the traditional teller counter, a member must place his driver's license on the PAT machine and enter his account number or social security digits. Then it's a matter of talking. Along with the video tellers, animated videos occasionally serve as the modern-day equivalent of Dante's Virgil and explain the next steps required of the members.

The Technology That Could
Videoconferencing technology that was once reserved for the boardroom is coming to ATM-like machines.

Video technology is attracting growing interest among banks and credit unions that are pressured to reimagine their branches as foot traffic drops, digital channel usage grows and customer expectations heighten. Along with gaining workforce efficiencies, the interactive video technology lets institutions try out new markets in a smaller square footage, including drive ups, while offering extended services to customers. A Celent report published in July said video banking will become an important component of retail delivery across all digital channels.

Proof keeps emerging.

In the last 13 months, The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) ruled that credit unions can use remote teller technology to qualify as service facilities; NCR, once only owning a stake, acquired uGenius; Diebold started offering a competing product; and Bank of America Corp. began testing ATMs with Teller Assist, which includes on-demand video tellers.

Jed Taylor, vice president and general manager of interactive banking at NCR, says personal teller machines were originally meant to consolidate labor costs and have now come into another purpose. "The technology is really helping banks create new types of branch models," Taylor says. The trend includes allowing for extended service hours and for traditional tellers to focus on sales and service.

Since AMHFCU debuted the PAT kiosks, NCR has built a drive-up version and packaged the software into smaller hardware units, allowing for more deployment possibilities, and it now counts more than 60 customers of its video technology. The deployment reasons vary by client.

AMHFCU largely views its investment as a way to serve members in grocery stores and to supplement its traditional teller lines with a centralized staff, says Brian Hahn, vice president of branch operations at the credit union.

Centralized remote video tellers allow for several perks. When a branch first opens and traffic is slow, perhaps only one traditional teller will be needed to work alongside available PAT machines, for example. Or if the call center is flooded with calls, a PAT agent could hop off video to help out. "I better utilize my staff and it makes scheduling more efficient," Hahn says.

The operational efficiencies dream didn't start so simply.

When a PAT machine was installed at Aria Health, initial results disappointed. But when PAT machines came to the grocery stores, the usage vision turned into a reality. "That's where the PAT machine gave us the ability to make use of a small footprint," Hahn says. "Members are going there anyway: They can complete another chore."

Plus, the credit union could keep the feel of its existing branches, including private rooms, by using PAT machines. "We wanted them to feel like they are coming to a branch, not a bubble in a grocery store," Hahn says.

Now, it has plans to add two more PAT machines and move its video tellers to the next building over, a transition that will accommodate up to 11 seats. Looking ahead, Hahn is interested in NCR's forthcoming ATM and video teller combination kiosk so it can make available services to non-members while also trying new PAT deployment locations, such as in the mall, with never-ending hours.

What Hahn doesn't see happening is using the machines to replace traditional tellers altogether.

"Some people in the early 70s, when the ATM was [newer], said the machines will eliminate all teller positions. Well, here we are in 2013, and there are still teller positions," says Hahn. "There will always be a mix of channels. …We have all the [features] that speak to the branch adverse. …We also understand there are people who have the desire to come in and physically sit with someone. We are trying to adjust our approach and go with destination branches and be in shopping centers and grocery stores where members are going anyway."

And Pickard will be one of the faces continuing to help those shoppers make deposits, pay their bills and shoot the breeze.