As a small institution with an older member base, BluCurrent Credit Union in Springfield, Mo., took a bit of a gamble when it incorporated video bankers into its three branches a couple of years ago.
But it turns out, most customers like it.
"We thought maybe some of the older members might resist it, but people Skype with their grandkids and they're more comfortable with technology today," Derek Williams, chief operating officer of the $158 million-asset BluCurrent, said in an interview. The video feature has garnered a 4.5 rating (with 5 being the best) in its member survey, he added.
Today, the video bankers help with things like opening new accounts and other nonteller duties. By the end of the year BluCurrent expects to roll out a mobile and online videoconferencing service.
Though it doesn't have designs on being a "digital-only bank," these new capabilities will allow it to conceivably serve customers outside of its traditional geographic footprint, Williams says. Essentially, the credit union isn't necessarily looking to redefine itself as an innovator — it is just trying to react to the changing realities of branch traffic in a way that still addresses its customers' needs.
"Nationally, we know branch traffic is declining across the industry," Williams said. "We love it when people come to visit us, but we know they always can't, or don't want to, so we want to try and serve them where they are. The way this is structured, it lets us go anywhere in the world"
Despite BluCurrent's success, video is not typically a high tech investment priority for financial institutions, said Jim Burson, senior director at Cornerstone Advisors.
"It's something that is usually on the road map, but a little further down, there are usually other things that are basic blocking and tackling that get prioritized," Burson said.
The credit union initially developed the technology solution in-house in 2013. It later partnered with the Hackensack, N.J., video technology provider Vidyo (which powers Gmail's Hangouts feature, among other things) as it sought to expand its capabilities.
Although industry adoption is still somewhat low, video is beginning to gain traction in financial services, said Vidyo's CEO, Eran Westman.
"We're seeing banks integrating video banking services with [application program interfaces], so they can initially provide it in the branch, and then expand that into mobile and online," Westman said.
Of course, BluCurrent isn't the only institution experimenting with video. In 2014, SunTrust added video teller machines in some of its branches. The machines, which resemble flat-screen TVs, connect customers with off-site tellers through two-way video to conduct most everyday transactions, such as withdrawing cash and depositing checks. Meanwhile, Bank of America and BBVA Compass are experimenting with video tellers in some branches and drive-thru locations.
Also, since 2011, Extraco Banks of Temple, Texas, has featured video technology heavily in branches. The $1.37 billion-asset bank installed video monitors in drive-through areas where the windows once were, to display product information. Customers also see the person who is helping them on a smaller video monitor in their drive-up lane. Video phones in branches also connect customers to one of the bank's call centers.
Incorporating video in branches similar to what BluCurrent and others have done can help banks operate more efficiently. Video lets institutions centralize specialists instead of having one in each branch.
"It means you don't need to have staff at every location," Burson said.
Burson said video on a mobile device or computer could have a big future if financial institutions can make its benefits clear.
"Is it better than click to call, or click to chat, which many [financial institutions] already offer?" he said. "It does have that engagement aspect; when people are making large financial decisions, they usually prefer to look at someone in the eyes. I think if video does take hold, it will more so in this regard, to connect with customers remotely."
Other video providers, such as Xura, which launched last year, say that video chatting could also make the authentication process easier. For instance, biometric technology could verify a customer in the background of the video, allowing the banker to more quickly address the customer's needs.
Also, BluCurrent's size is noteworthy, said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research. Small institutions typically have tiny tech budgets, so any endeavor needs to be able to deliver results.
"This is a case where a small institution is using it in a meaningful way," Schwanhausser said. "I think overall, you'll see banks start to roll out more video capabilities; it won't be sweeping the nation in the next couple of years, but there will be movement."