Call it drive-through banking without the car.

SunTrust Banks Inc. is testing a system of pneumatic tubes and video terminals that let bank employees serve walk-up customers from a remote location instead of through a teller window.

"Basically, what we were looking for was to bring some economies ... and bring some additional security to the teller area," said Peter Kugelmann, a senior vice president with SunTrust.

The RemoteTeller system is made by Diebold Inc. of Canton, Ohio.

Diebold, which also manufactures automated teller machines and security equipment, has supplied banks for years with technology for drive-through services. RemoteTeller takes the concept a step further by letting customers communicate with tellers via two-way video screens instead of just an intercom.

As in a drive-through, papers and money can be passed between teller and customer using pneumatic tubes.

The system can help banks reduce the amount of prime retail space they must occupy in order to operate a branch. Also, the system can improve security, since the tellers aren't near the customers..

SunTrust, which has $52 billion of assets, is now testing the system only at a Tampa branch but may try it in others. Crestar Financial Corp. is also using the system in a pilot program.

Timothy J. Ryan, principal with Verdi Ryan Associates, a Williamsville, N.Y.-based consulting firm, said it will be interesting "to see what kind of efficiencies might be generated through this system."

He noted that the system could reduce teller down time by, for example, letting employees serve one customer while waiting for another to fill out a deposit slip. Mr. Kugelmann said this is an attractive benefit of the system.

The teller system has been operational at the SunTrust branch since December, and the response has been very positive, Mr. Kugelmann said. The only complaint the bank has heard from customers is that "they don't get to go to their favorite tellers," he said.

The security benefits of RemoteTeller are particularly attractive to SunTrust.

Like many institutions, it has installed "bandit barriers"-thick glass partitions-at teller counters in higher-crime areas. RemoteTellers cost about the same per branch, Mr. Kugelmann said. The barriers cost about $20,000 to $25,000 a branch; a RemoteTeller system runs $12,000 to $25,000.

The bank expects the system to pay for itself, Mr. Kugelmann said. "You can reduce the number of tellers and you gain on the security." u

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