published Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

New machines allow bank customers to get debit cards right away in the Chattanooga market

First Tennessee new debit cards
First Tennessee new debit cards

Bank customers will get a reprieve from the current weekslong delay in receiving customized debit cards, if a new technology introduced by First Tennessee Bank takes hold in the Chattanooga market.

Advances in printing technology now allow First Tennessee customers at more than 170 bank branches to walk in, choose from a catalog of nearly 60 customized designs and walk out with a new debit card the same day, officials say.

Except for a few credit unions, most banks don't currently offer the ability for customers to get their card right away. Instead, banks typically process and print the cards at a central location and mail them to a customer's address, usually with a personal identification number and paper checks shipped separately.

"It's never been something that's been widely adopted for cost reasons," said Dondi Black, who oversees the bank's debit card operations. "But the technology has actually evolved considerably in the space, and that made it a good time for us to enter into that."

The bank offers customized card designs ranging from photos of bacon to the Marine Corps memorial, and will eventually allow customers to use photos of themselves or their family to customize the card, Black said.

The new printers are the first step toward adopting the microchip technology already used in debit cards outside the U.S., which helps fight fraud but will require the wholesale replacement of much of the point-of-sale terminals in use today.

"The same printers that support this premium catalog will also support our adoption of those chip cards," Black said. "We won't have to revert to a centralized, mail-you-your-card system, we'll continue to have ability to issue those in financial centers as well."

The instant debit card technology is expected to resonate with younger customers, for whom waiting a few weeks to replace a lost or stolen debit card is not an option, said Keith Sanford, Chattanooga market president for First Tennessee.

"My four kids who are all in their low 20s use the debit card, that is their primary source of payment. They use it all the time. If they lose the card, break the card, get hacked, you used to have to wait a week to 10 days to get the card, they have no spending power," Sanford said. "The instant issue thing really works well for them."

The new debit cards are available in every branch in Chattanooga, Cleveland and Catoosa County. Cards with microchips aren't expected to roll out in 2014, but the bank is currently working on a plan to distribute the new technology to customers. First Tennessee will also distribute the customized card technology to its credit card customers once it completes the roll out of new debit cards.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or with tips and documents.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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