Crestar Bank has joined a small but growing group using self-service terminals to coax traditional banking customers into the realm of automated banking.
The unit of $18 billion Crestar Financial Corp. plans to install 70 of the noncash devices alongside its automated teller machines in the Richmond, Va., area by month's end.
The units, which resemble ATMs, relieve branch personnel of mundane tasks - such as printing statements and quoting interest rates - and are available outside traditional branch hours, said James M. Wells 3d, president of Crestar.
In a related pilot project, Crestar also has begun operating a semiautomated, 24-hour branch - complete with two-way video terminals - on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
"We're trying to make as many points of contact as possible with customers," said Mr. Wells.
Crestar executives have said they are engaged in one of the largest rollouts to date of self-service kiosks.
In July, Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh announced plans to install more than 400 self-service terminals in its branches.
Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, has made one of the industry's biggest splashes with 13 branches equipped with two-way video terminals linked to the bank's call center.
Only a handful of banks have introduced such technology, mostly as experiments, said Robert Landry, a consultant at Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass.
Noncash self-service terminals may be popular with computer-savvy customers, but the machines have yet to gain a foothold among the masses, said Mr. Landry. Many people "still prefer to talk to a person," he said.
Executives at Crestar and Diebold Inc. - the Canton, Ohio, supplier of Crestar's noncash devices - say the tide is turning.
"The time is right," said Raymond Stankunas, general manager of Diebold's custom terminal division. "In the past, the technology was expensive and not reliable, but that has changed dramatically."
Depending on the functions it is expected to perform, a self-service terminal can cost between $25,000 and $50,000, said Mr. Stankunas.
Mr. Landry said the costs of ongoing maintenance, two-way video links, and the need to constantly update product information could be prohibitive for many banks. "The relative return on the investment in these systems is still not clear," he said.
Crestar's "24-Hour Banker" units have 15-inch, full-color monitors with touch-screen menus that provide information such as account balances and loan rates and let customers transfer funds between accounts.
About three-fourths of the terminals will be deployed in the 24-hour ATM areas of existing Crestar branches. The rest will go in airports, shopping malls, and grocery stores. Ten machines will have audio chips, attracting attention with spoken messages.