Huntington Bancshares says its latest self-service banking device - a sophisticated customer information terminal outfitted with a video telephone - is an innovation that rivals drive-up teller windows.

The device, unveiled this month, is the latest in a string of automated products the bank hopes will reduce its branch network costs.

The terminal will let customers speak face to face to bank personnel 24 hours a day.

A Need for Guidance

"Certain transactions by their nature are going to make customers uneasy if they can't speak to someone about them," said Paul Ayres, vice president of electronic banking at Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington. "Having a bank employee available on-line solves that problem."

The new terminal - the result of the first collaboration between American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and its newest unit, NCR Corp., Dayton, Ohio - is the next logical step in a process begun this year.

At that time, Fleet/Norstar Financial Group, Providence, R.I., and BayBank's Inc., Boston, introduced two models of self-service terminal. Each enables customers to open accounts, transfer funds, cancel and order checks, and get pricing.

The new Huntington terminal - a souped-up version of the NCR 5682 units used at Fleet and BayBanks - can handle those same transactions. However, on a terminal with the video capabilities, customers may summon a live bank employee to address confusing or complex matters.

Installation at Some Branches

This month Huntington began to install the terminal in select Ohio branches to handle work overflow. Bank officials would not say how many units they plan to install in the next year. However, they did say the eventual goal is to develop totally unstaffed banking centers through which the bank could economically deliver 24-hour personal service.

Initially, there will be no extra charge for customers to use the video hookup. But the bank is not ruling out differential pricing in the future.

"Our initial thought is that it should be free, just like talking to a teller, but time will tell if that's feasible," said Mr. Ayres.

An Eager User

Huntington's interest in video-enhanced retail products began earlier this year, when Palaver Systems Inc., also based in Columbus, began to develop video teleconferencing systems for the bank's back offices.

Later that year, AT&T introduced some innovations that made it possible to send moving images over regular phone lines, rather than on more expensive, high-speed data links. When NCR installed the technology into its terminals, Huntington jumped at the chance to put them to use.

"It is not always possible to have the right banking expert at the location and at the time that the customer needs them," said Bill Randle, Huntington's director of marketing and strategic support.

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