TVFCU's first remote bank teller, Anneliese Pierce, talks with a customer as a remote personal teller inside the TVFCU LIVE Studio on Chestnut Street.
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John Merritt, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union vice president of marketing, and Valerie Gifford, TVFCU senior vice president of retail operations, discuss remote tellers from inside the Chestnut Street offices in downtown Chattanooga.

In a third-floor suite inside the old IBM building at 535 Chestnut Street in downtown Chattanooga, workers at the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) are literally changing the face of retail financial services.

Inside cubicles lit by the soft light of Ikea desk lamps, a team of up to 30 TVFCU tellers connect with customers at the credit union's growing network of interactive interactive teller machines (ITMs) across the Tennessee Valley.

For example, a customer at the Dayton Boulevard Food City branch of TVFCU can walk up to an ITM and communicate, Skype-like, with a video teller stationed in downtown Chattanooga. With the touch of a button, a face pops up on a video screen, and the customer and teller quickly get down to banking business. If the credit union has a copy of their driver's license on file, customers may not even have to show an ID to conduct banking.

From these remote locations customers can deposit checks, cash checks, withdraw cash from accounts, make a loan payment or transfer funds. Moreover, the technology allows TVFCU to extend its face-to-face operational hours. The ITMs are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Jake Ables, one of the TVFCU tellers in the Chestnut Street teller "studio", says his year behind the screen has taught him a lot about new-wave banking. It has convinced him that ITMs are the technology of the future, he says. Before, he was a teller in a traditional branch bank.

"I enjoy it more," he says of the ITM work. "It's much easier than in a traditional bank, and there is less chance of making an error (because of the automation)."

For example, checks can be cashed to the penny and transactions can be posted automatically by an ITM teller.

TVFCU officials said the regional credit union decided in 2015 to make a big investment in telebanking across its branches. TVFCU was the first credit union in Southeast Tennessee to introduce interactive teller technology. Fifteen of 16 locations now have "TVFCU Live" personal teller machines, which in some cases have taken the place of drive-through windows. Still, company leaders are quick to say that this technology has not resulted in a net loss of jobs. Indeed, they are adding employees, leaders said, and deploying them more efficiently.

Anneliese Pierce, an ITM teller who has worked at TVFCU since 2013, says sometimes ITM customers assume she is located out of town.

"I had somebody ask me if I was in California," she says. "I told them, 'California would be nice, but no.'"

As employees of a locally-based business, Pierce said that TVFCU tellers are encouraged to learn to recognize the faces of regular customers and to call them by name when possible.

Valerie Gifford, senior vice president of retail operations at TVFCU, says that in some cases ITMs — which some have taken to calling a "banks-in-a-box" — have replaced drive-through window tellers in lower-traffic locations. Customers still drive through, but they roll down a car window and talk to a teller downtown through an ITM, not to a person a few feet away behind bricks and mortar.

"Prior to now, there were times when you had one or two employees at each branch sitting in the drive-through window with no business," she says. "We couldn't pull them out, but now (tellers) don't have to bide time (between customers)."

John Merritt, vice president of marketing for TVFCU, said the ITMs help to even out peaks and valleys in customer flow.

He said for several weeks after the ITMs were introduced, TVFCU managers stood outside branch locations to help customers learn to use the technology. He said the ITMs, which can dispense money and scan documents, also help get rid of the the clunky pneumatic tubes that have been a mainstay of drive-through banking.

"We want people so save time on their banking so they'll have more time to live the life they love," Merritt says, echoing the company's widely publicized marketing slogan.