Diebold, best known as an ATM manufacturer, is rebranding itself to banks as a provider of technologies far beyond cash-dispensing boxes to stay relevant in a digital age.
Most recently, the 155-year-old company (which originally manufactured vaults) has been promoting its consulting services on a popular banking topic: how to redefine branches as sales-and-service hubs.
In early August, the Ohio vendor demonstrated its new service by guiding bankers and other attendees through numerous self-serve technologies inside a mock-up branch of the future in a Manhattan hotel ballroom. In lieu of velvet ropes and teller lines, the ersatz branch featured videoconferencing, an ATM that lets people take out cash with a mobile banking app instead of a plastic card, and a tablet bar a la the Apple Store.
Diebold's diversification comes as banks are working to reimagine their branches, which consumers still frequent despite digital alternatives. A study published by the Federal Reserve Board in March found that 82% of consumers who have a bank account report having visited a branch and spoken with a teller in the past 12 months.
"Branches are still popular. That's clear," said Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president of consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association. "But they are changing."
Identifying a new revenue opportunity, Diebold set up branch consultancy services in mid-2012 to advise banks on new models. The setup will vary by bank's strategy but the most crucial detail to making such a branch model work hinged on something the vendor couldn't demonstrate or sell during its recent event: a well-trained staff.
"People are the most important," said Raja Bose, Diebold's vice president of branch transformation and advisory services, and former executive at Bank of America.
Branch personnel, after all, will be responsible for shepherding customers through inviting but unfamiliar environments and demonstrating the self-service technologies. One banker attendee at the Diebold said his employees had to tell customers they could use the tablets in a branch as they assumed the devices were off limits, for example.
To address such issues, Diebold recommended banks appoint concierges who choreograph the in-branch customer experience. The staffers, positioned at the front entrance (which some sales-minded bankers nickname the "kill zone") should be able to do everything from update a customer's address to demonstrate online bill pay to redirect someone to a mortgage expert.
That vision, shared by many banks, requires training and encouraging employees to try out any feature the bank provides.
"Employees have to be absolute experts in every piece of technology customers might use," said Terence Roche, a principal and co-founder at Cornerstone Advisors.
Diebold emphasized the need for branch personnel to become fluent in all technologies, including mobile and online banking, to deliver on what customers want.
"It's all about the experience," said Tim Witt, vice president of integrated services and software at Diebold, during the event's opening remarks. "No one sits there and says, 'I got my money: Five stars.'"
To be sure, there will be obstacles. Sabotage from employees who view the self-service technology as a threat to their jobs could be one. (Bank of America tellers have already protested the use of video-equipped ATMs, for example.)
Paying branch personnel better, illuminating a career path and pointing to the role's purpose could help overcome such hurdles.
"People are not human ATMs," said Bose. "They are there to help customers. They are not there to transact."
Diebold's recommendations draw on its more recent strategy work. In mid-2012, the company established a formal branch transformation team. It is pitched as a resource for banks to gain insights from a provider with a bird's-eye view of hits and misses worldwide and of course, one that sells self-service machines designed to sit inside bank branches.
Since the team's launch, it's worked with financial institutions including Fifth Third on proofs of concept and smaller branch pilots. In 2013, Bose and his team spoke with 600 financial institutions on this topic. During a call with investors last week, Diebold announced project deals with Alpine Bank, Lakeland Bank, and Bellco Credit Union.
ATM manufacturers worldwide have been broadening their services at a time when banks are seeking to reinvent their branches as transaction volumes continue to drop.
The decades-old machines (now referred to as "devices" by their makers) have been improving over the years. Changes have included modest software adjustments, like displaying birthday messages and letting customers select the bill denominations they want. Larger efforts include the ATM Industry Association launching a group dedicated to developing new ways for ATMs to benefit underserved customers.
At the same time, ATM providers are striving to create experiences that deliver on one of the most buzzworthy terms: omnichannel. NCR Corp., a Diebold rival, purchased digital banking provider Digital Insight to diversify its business and to tie varied digital channels together.
Integrating with other channels is part of Diebold's plan, too. The vendor, which says physical cash will be with us for many years to come, views itself as the interface between physical and digital banking. Diebold's most recent software update, for example, lets tablets talk to the ATM software, so that a iPad-carrying employee will get a prompt to, say, approve or reject someone trying to withdraw more money than the ATM's typical limit.
Such ongoing enhancements come as consumers are interacting more and more with online and mobile banking channels and are transacting less and less inside of branches.
"The seismic changes in consumer preferences are on everyone's radar," said Bob Meara, senior analyst in the research firm Celent's banking group. "Everyone is coming to realize a bank can't run delivery channels in silo ways."