Originally created 12/19/97

Bank teller of future may be video star



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Customers might miss the personal touch, but the bank teller of the future may be a video star working with hundreds of others at a remote customer service center.

First Union National Bank has started testing video bank services at its unstaffed Jacksonville express office, which opened this summer.

Customers can walk in, any time of day or night, seven-days-a-week, and talk eyeball to eyeball with bank staff working at a call center in Charlotte, N.C., where First Union is headquartered, said Price Schwenck, the bank's Jacksonville area president.

The office has video capability, an ATM inside that gives change, a little conference room for meeting with bank staff and a drive-through ATM outside.

"It is very experimental and we are still learning from it," Mr. Schwenck said. The unit is the only one in the giant First Union banking chain, which has branches scattered from Connecticut to the Keys. The video technology, however, is also being tested at branches in Atlanta, Mr. Schwenck said.

The "robobank" approach is not a step toward replacing regular branches, Mr. Schwenck said. But they make make sense in locations like shopping malls and other sites where the economics do not work for a bricks-and-mortar fully-staffed branch, Mr. Schwenck said.