Videoconferences Put to New Tests

Banc One, Others Hope for Gains in Marketing

Banc One Corp. has begun a three-month test of a videoconferencing system that will allow customers to see and talk to bank salespeople without having to go to a branch.

Other banks, including Huntington Bancshares Inc., Columbus, Ohio, and Crossland Savings Bank, New York, are using the technology to link customers with experts in products such as mortgages, mutual funds, and insurance.

The systems are attractive, the banks say, because experts in such product lines would not be in the typical bank branch.

Moving Closer to Customers

But Columbus, Ohio-based Banc One has a different strategy. Officials say it will allow them to improve customer service in traditional product lines by moving marketing even closer to where customers live.

They plan to install the systems not only in branches but in such locations as shopping malls and office buildings.

"There will be a lot of opportunity with traditional banking services, depending on where we put it," said Carolyn Martin, assistant vice president and manager of alternative distribution sales and services for Bank One, Columbus.

"I think we'll have more potential than with some diversified services," said Ms. Martin.

All the banks testing the technology say they believe that customers will prefer the video systems - which allow them to see their salesperson - over telephone systems.

"You can sit a group of experts anywhere," said Chip Savidge, senior officer of Banc One Services Corp., which is responsible for the pilot project.

On the Cafeteria Menu

The system is being tested in a cafeteria that serves about 1,000 employees of Banc One Services in Columbus.

By the end of the year, the bank will decide whether to roll out the system to customers - and at what locations.

Banc One envisions installing systems in such locations as the 10 large corporations where the bank has already gained a foothold through discount programs.

Banc One is using technology from Personal Financial Assistant Inc., Charlotte, N.C.

The kiosk contains a telephone, chair, personal computer, laser printer, and deposit box. The customer talks to the sales expert on the telephone and sees a picture of the sales person on the screen.

The picture is then replaced by text describing the product the customer is requesting.

At the end of the session, the salesperson presses a button and a form is printed out at the customer's location.

The customer can sign the form, keep a copy, and drop the original into a deposit box.

Huntington Bank is conducting a test with a branch in Dublin, Ohio, a private banking branch, and Huntington Mortgage Co.

The bank is using technology from Litel/Palaver Systems. One drawback is that standard telephone lines cannot deliver a full-motion picture. But the bank is also working with American Telephone and Telegraph Corp. to develop full-motion video that can be transmitted over standard lines.

Full-motion video technology offers images approaching standard television reception.

"Once the AT&T and NCR merger is complete, that will be a more interesting product line," said William M. Randle, senior vice president and corporate marketing director at Huntington.

Probably the most logical implementation of the multi-media technology, after the AT&T merger, would be on the NCR platform, Mr. Randle said.

Upgrading Planned

Both Banc One and Huntington plan to go to full-motion videoconferencing by next year. That would allow customers to interact with the customer service representative.

"Then, hopefully, we can get the technology to the point where we can put the person up in the corner of the screen, while the customer views text about the products," said Ms. Savidge at Banc One.

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