W MI credit unions replacing tellers with ‘ITMs’

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new player in the banking world is expected to change the customer experience at financial institutions everywhere.

The Interactive Teller Machine has replaced traditional tellers at some West Michigan credit unions, and leaders at those institutions suspect their widespread use in the near future.

The ITM connects clients with remote tellers using a two-way video connection and a machine that looks similar to an ATM. The tellers are able to complete many everyday transactions from afar.

Kalamazoo-based Consumers Credit Union doesn’t have any traditional tellers at its Grandville and Plainfield Township branches. Both locations are staffed with personnel primarily dedicated to more complex transactions, though they can complete any transaction for customers who don’t want to use the ITMs.

“I think that there is always going to be a need for person-to-person interaction,” said Adam Leavesley, a regional manager for Consumers Credit Union.

Leavesley said the response to the devices has been mostly positive, though some have not wanted to use them.

“One of our favorite things to do is to have that happen and then turn that person into a raving fan,” Leavesly said.

The ITMs are expected to be safer for staff — reducing the likelihood of robberies — and more accurate because they all but eliminate money-counting errors.

“You can rest assured the computer hasn’t made a mistake yet,” Leavesly said.

Lake Michigan Credit Union is employing the devices in a different way. It has installed a few that are primarily for afterhours use. The plan is to staff them from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m.

LMCU executives say they have no plans to have them replace traditional tellers.

“Not for Lake Michigan Credit Union,” said Don Bratt, LMCU’s senior vice president of marketing. “We still put a high value on the interaction face-to-face. … We do not see going away from the traditional branch at this time.”

Lake Michigan and Consumers credit unions both say that ITMs have added to their staffing levels.

Nonetheless, the outlook for bank tellers isn’t good. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an 8 percent drop in teller jobs nationwide — a loss of some 40,000 positions between 2014 and 2024.

The ITMs also function as regular ATMs during off hours and are used in the drive-thru in both ways.

Leavesley from Consumers says he expects the devices to increase the level of service at his offices. He said staff at his locations will be freed up to focus on complex transactions and customer interaction while the ITMs handle ordinary day-to-day business.

Consumers currently has 25 of the machines in use in West Michigan.

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