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Published: Thursday, 12/6/2001

KeyBank to expand video system begun here

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER

A pilot video-banking program begun in Toledo 10 months ago has proven so successful that KeyBank will duplicate it soon in Ann Arbor and probably in Cleveland, a bank official said yesterday.

Paul Meinerding, district retail leader for the Toledo area and southeast Michigan, said the “RemoteTeller” operation at Hill Avenue and Byrne Road - where tellers behind walls deal with customers who use video kiosks - has solved a crime problem. Since the system was installed in February, “We've had no problems with robberies,” he noted.

However, Mr. Meinerding acknowledged that at most 20 percent of branches in KeyBank's 13-state network would be able to adopt such a program - because of the costs involved - and some banking experts are skeptical that the idea will ever advance much beyond the experimental stage.

The system allows three to five tellers to handle transactions from seven kiosk stations - five inside the branch and two in a drive-through. Mr. Meinerding, head of retail operations for 38 banks in the Toledo area and 21 in Michigan, said customers like the system because it speeds transactions.

KeyBank ventured into video banking after several large banks, including Columbus-based Huntington National Bank, tried and abandoned the concept.

Mr. Meinerding said he has selected a branch in the Ann Arbor area as the second RemoteTeller site in his territory. He added that his counterpart in the Cleveland area is considering the system for one or more branches there. A small RemoteTeller unit is in place in Brunswick, Ohio, between Akron and Cleveland.

Others could be installed in the Toledo area, but, he said, “We have to weigh the costs and the outside environment. Robberies [would be] one of the things we would weigh.”

The RemoteTeller system used by KeyBank is supplied by Diebold, Inc., of North Canton, Ohio, which has shipped hundreds of units to locations around the United States and Latin America for such big banks as Chase Manhattan, Bank One, Bank of America, Fleet Boston, and Comerica Bank, as well as many smaller banks and credit unions.

When Key installed its first system, some banking analysts said the concept would be a hard sell to a public more accustomed to live tellers. Even now, some are dubious. Among them is Douglas Austin, president and chief executive officer of Austin Financial Services, Inc., a Toledo bank-consulting firm.

“It's the kind of thing that's OK in a transient area,” remarked Mr. Austin, an emeritus professor of finance at UT. “But in neighborhoods, people want to know who their bankers are and they want to talk to them [face-to-face].”

Another problem, Mr. Austin said, is that even though “bank employees may be safer, the customer is still at risk” at a kiosk in full view.



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