Banks are getting a little too hasty when it comes to ushering in a teller-less branch banking experience. Consumers are not ready for it, even if their actions indicate otherwise. Instead of making customers avoid tellers cold turkey, banks should help them incrementally relinquish their dependence on the human factor of branch banking.
Bank of America's two-year stint with its eBanking account has shown it isn't time to bar customers from the teller counter. To waive the monthly maintenance fee on the account, customers had to sign up for electronic statements and use only self-service channels to make deposits and withdrawals. The bank recently discontinued the account because customers said they still wanted teller service, even if they visited a branch infrequently.
Consumers have become more sensitive to pricing changes on banking products and services that were previously free. Interaction with bank tellers is far too traditional of a bank experience to eliminate on a whim.
In December, PNC will follow in the footsteps of Bank of America by adding a monthly fee to its popular Virtual Wallet checking account. One fee-waiver criteria is to use only ATMs or electronic methods to make deposits and withdrawals during the month. It wouldn't be a surprise for PNC to get the same feedback already obtained by Bank of America.
Unless more banks act together to transform how customers use tellers, consumers will have a tough time accepting checking products that limit access to them.
Fortunately, some banks are taking on the role of modifying consumers' idea of tellers without imposing all-or-nothing fee policies.
For example, BBVA Compass opted for a pricing model on a newly-introduced checking product that allows for minimal branch banking at no cost, but charges for excessive branch transactions. The first three checks or in-branch withdrawals processed per month are free with the bank's new ClearConnect Checking account. After that, each of these transactions cost $1. There's also a $4 fee for each in-branch deposit made after the first, per month.
That's just enough leeway to help customers notice they actually don't make in-branch transactions as much as they think. Therefore, they'll become increasingly comfortable with the idea of a teller-less banking experience.
Paper statements have undergone a very similar transition without garnering the type of customer feedback that would cause a bank to reverse course on its pricing model. Previously, as online and mobile banking gained popularity, consumers received incentives for enrolling in electronic statements. Today, paper statements tend to come with a fee, but there's hasn't been a major outcry over that trend since consumers have noticed they're repeating the monthly chore of opening a bank statement for a split second, before tossing it in the recycling bin.
Expect technology to once again facilitate the transition away from in-branch tellers. The new video-conferencing technology being piloted and deployed by banks is step toward changing customer perception of teller access. The video tellers can educate customers on how they can replicate most banking transactions through self-service channels.
Banks should allow more time for less-stringent pricing models and video-teller ATMs to permeate the industry as consumers wean themselves from the conventional, face-to-face experience of interacting with tellers.
Simon Zhen is a financial writer and research analyst for MyBankTracker.com, a website that features consumer bank reviews, personal finance articles and bank product comparison tables.