The New Face Of The Front Line

It takes more than sleek teller machines to transform member experience. Tucson FCU’s transition to drive-thru ITMs required hours of planning, visits to other credit unions, a new training program, and a branch-by-branch rollout of the new machines.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Tucson FCU spent two years evaluating ITMs and visiting credit unions that had already deployed the technology.
  • Drive-thru transactions initially dropped after implementation, but usage has now largely normalized.

It’s part of human nature to resist change. When that change involves the rollout of new technology, some people avoid adoption all together. As credit unions across the country roll out interactive teller machines (ITMs), how to encourage members to adopt the technology is a major consideration.

They’re facing a hurdle there. According to a 2017 survey by ATM Marketplace, 64% of consumers prefer using a traditional teller window in a branch over a drive-up ITM with a remote teller on video.

Surrounded by mountains in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is a city of 1.5 million people that’s set apart from the rest of Arizona. When Tucson Federal Credit Union ($459.2M, Tucson, AZ) rolled out ITMs to drive-thru locations last year, it was the first to do so in its southern Arizona market. That meant the credit union had to get it right this was its market and its members.


We’re always looking at innovation as it comes down the pike, but every membership is different and every credit union is different, says Matthew Gaspari, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Tucson FCU. There is no branch transformation master plan for our industry to follow. You have to make your own decisions that match your members’ needs.

Tucson FCU’s transition to drive-thru ITMs over the past year came after many hours of planning, visits to other credit unions, a new training program, and a branch-by-branch rollout of the new machines. Gaspari says the credit union put ITMs in the drive-thru because that is where they had the most potential to improve member experience and efficiency.

ITMs are a perfect choice for TFCU because we maintain the ability to personally interact with our members, the EVP says. We’re not handing off members to a self-service technology. If you’ve ever made a Skype or Facetime call, you know it’s an engaging interaction. It closely emulates an in-person interaction. That was key in our decision.

The credit union immediately noted benefits. It eliminated cannisters and pneumatic tubes and cut drive-thru wait times in half. The ITM takes a time-stamped photo of the member during the transaction and captures the member ID on a scanner, so signatures are no longer required with every transaction. And the screens actually make tellers more visible, as they are in front of the member instead of 30 feet away from the drive-thru line.

It’s more efficient and a better personal engagement experience at the same time, Gaspari says.

On The Road

Tucson FCU spent two years evaluating ITM technology, beginning with an NCR road show in Phoenix and stretching through visits to credit unions in Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, and North Carolina to analyze implementation programs, staffing models, process efficiencies, and membership adoption. Gaspari says the credit union lifted best practices from each institution and customized them for its membership.

We visited them to learn and come back to strategize, not to copy their approach, he says. Every credit union must know its membership and how they adopt technology to create its own use case.

The Right Number

Before Tucson FCU could install the ITMs, it had to reconfigure its drive-thru locations to accommodate the new machines. Each branch presented its own set of challenges based on lane width, island width, and even the potential glare on the screens in sunny Tucson.

The credit union worked with Frontline Construction and Cooks Security Group, which maintains the machines, to develop a plan for each location. As part of the process, it cut the number of drive-thru lanes in half to reflect the faster transaction times and capacity of the new machines. So, instead of four drive-thru lanes, busier branch locations had two.

Construction began in October 2017, and the credit union installed its sixth ITM, on time, in February 2018.

We were transparent with our employees from the beginning, Gaspari says. They knew what was coming, why we made the decision, and how it would help us improve member experience. We went to each branch and delivered the information face to face and had a full question-and-answer session to alleviate fears, concerns, or questions.

4 Tricks Of The ITM Trade

Ent Credit Union ($5.3B, Colorado Springs, CO) began rolling out ITMs in 2016. Now, with 11 machines in operation, the credit union is focused on how to optimize the member experience. Michelle Flores, call center director, and Brian Rowedder, director of marketing offer four ways to make real connections through the virtual channel.

  • Dress for success. Interactive teller representatives (ITRs) wear Ent-branded apparel and sit in front of a backdrop with the credit union’s logo to visually reinforce the brand.
  • Lights, camera, transactions. A local video production crew evaluated the ITM cubicle space and video quality and identified the need for supplemental lighting as well as other setting changes to improve the look of the cubicles. That allowed us to increase the visual appeal of our ITR agents on screen, Rowedder says.
  • Consistent service. Ent regularly surveys members on their experience and monitors IVRs in action. It also encourages service center employees to visit the ITR area to share their in-person best practices with the on-screen tellers. The goal is to provide members with a similar experience whether they choose to go inside a service center or chat with a representative through an ITM, Flores says.
  • Location, location, location. According to Flores, ITMs in new service centers are generally more readily adopted by members than ITMs at existing locations. Our theory is that members are more inclined to experiment with new ways of obtaining service at a new location, while they may not change their service patterns as readily at an existing location, she says.

The Right People

One major factor in the rollout was hiring the right people to become virtual tellers. Since virtual tellers are on video screens, they have to project the right level of enthusiasm and service to connect with members in the drive-thru.

Not everyone can connect via a video screen, Gaspari says. An excellent teller might or might not be an excellent videoteller. So, we were purposeful about who we chose to be in our inaugural virtual teller class.

One of the new virtual tellers, a 15-year veteran of the drive-thru, had already developed a rapport with members at his branch, and now gets to work with members at all drive-thru locations.

Terry is beloved, and as we were introducing this, he was a big cheerleader and advocate for ITMs, Gaspari says. One recurring theme we heard from the membership was their appreciation that we kept our employees. We didn’t get rid of them and replace them with a machine. They come to the drive-thru for a reason. The fact that they still get to see our staff has meant a lot to the members.

The Right Training

Two credit union leaders one representing member experience, the other representing human resources worked together to create a training program customized to virtual teller skills.

In addition to instructing virtual tellers on how to support members in making transactions, the training gives new tellers the opportunity to practice engaging members through the video screen. Best practices there include maintaining eye contact at all times, using the right intonations, and smiling throughout the transaction.

They practiced, practiced, and practiced again using one of the ITMs in test mode, Gaspari says. Training is just as important as any other component of this technology implementation. We nailed this, in my opinion. Our virtual tellers are outstanding.

The Right Promotion

Tucson FCU began promoting the new ITMs even before the official launch. It set up its first machine in its corporate office and invited frequent drive-thru members to try it out and provide feedback.

In the weeks leading up to implementation, Tucson FCU used social media channels and email, including a promotional video, to introduce the concept. However, Gaspari believes face-to-face promotion made the greatest impact.

Tucson FCU used social media channels, email, and even a promotional video to introduce ITMs to its members. Click on the image above to watch the video.

At each branch, the credit union held weeks-long celebrations, with marketing and operations teams greeting members as they drove up, walking them through transactions, handing out prizes, and posting pictures on social media. One woman, embarrassed that she was still in her pajamas, played along with the greeters, noting, I didn’t know I was going to be on TV! Gaspari, who began his career at Tucson FCU in the branch, even reconnected with a member he had opened an account for 23 years ago.


Tucson FCU
Data as of 06.30.18

HQ: Tucson, AZ
ASSETS: $459.2M
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.2%
ROA: 0.58%

We told them about the ITMs, the why behind the decision, and how excited we were to introduce them to this new technology, he says. We were met with some stares and confusion at first, no doubt about it, but being out there in person for the first few weeks was critical to the success in rolling out this technology.

The Right Results

Despite the promotion, some members were thrown by the machines and drive-thru transactions initially dropped. Usage has now begun to normalize. The transaction volume at the credit union’s busiest location is just 2% below pre-conversion volumes. However, another location with a more dramatic drop off in transaction volume has yet to rebound, indicating that members there are less receptive to the new technology. Still, the credit union isn’t too concerned.

We’re not losing members, Gaspari says. Our membership numbers continue to grow. They’re choosing to adopt another technology in lieu of the drive-thru, which is OK.

Looking Ahead

The credit union is moving along in its deployment of ITMs and even has plans to introduce other video technology to supplement services inside the branches and experience center. Gaspari says these video interactions will allow Tucson FCU to remain dedicated to one-on-one relationships no matter what channel ATM, online banking, mobile app, remote deposit capture, or more members use.

We have one more branch drive-thru to bring in to the ITM world in 2019, Gaspari says. As we remodel branches in 2019, we will introduce ITMs inside. Having watched its adoption and the level of exceptional service that video can provide, I’m all in on this concept.


October 22, 2018

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