Bank of America continues to add video to the way they interact with customers, with video mortgage bankers being the newest venture for the Charlotte, North Carolina based bank, according to an article by the News & Observer. This year the bank plans to increase the number of branches equipped with video from 180 to 300. Customers can use the screens to talk to specialty bankers offering mortgages, small business loans, or investment products.
The newspaper reports, Bank of America began installing automated teller machines with video screens two years ago and began testing screens in some of its branches three years ago. The bank’s use of video to interact with customers is in contrast to some of its big-bank peers, who are taking a wait-and-see approach to the technology.
The bank’s video push underscores the industry’s transition to a new era in which consumers conduct more transactions online and make fewer visits to branches. Bank of America says it’s putting the screens inside branches where foot traffic is too low to justify having a mortgage banker or other specialist.
Banks are also eager to make branches cheaper to operate, as they look to blunt profit pressures stemming from low interest rates and high legal costs. Bank of America’s profit in 2014 of $4.8 billion was down 58 percent from 2013 as a $16.65 billion settlement with the federal government weighed on its earnings.
“Banks aren’t making a lot of money in the current environment, so they are looking for ways to cut real estate and personnel costs,” bank analyst James Sinegal said.
The bank also is rolling out more of its video-equipped ATMs this year. Since 2013 it has installed more than 500 across the U.S.
To be sure, the branches and ATMs outfitted with video screens represent just a fraction of the 4,800 total branches and 15,800 total ATMs the bank reported at the end of last year. But the bank is watching closely to see how customers respond to the technology.
As consumers use video to interact with more kinds of companies, they should remember that a video transaction is never as secure as an in-person interaction, said Bill Chu, a professor at UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics. Chu said he’s not necessarily against such technologies, but he said moving a complex financial transaction from an in-person exchange to a digital one raises the odds of consumer data being accessed by a hacker.
“From a security perspective, it’s never more secure than face to face because there’s always a chance that things can be intercepted, a chance that things are not encrypted properly,” he said. “You can have the most mature and secure technology in the world, but if people don’t use it properly it’s not going to be secure and safe.”
Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco said the bank’s video interactions are secure, private and done over the bank’s internal network. The bank’s use of the technology complies with all laws and regulations regarding customer communication, he said. He said the bank records the audio from the video calls to comply with federal laws but does not record the video itself.
In a call center in Charlotte, James McKay Jr. is one of about 15 mortgage bankers who speak with customers using a video screen.
McKay, 58, fields video calls from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., while some of his co-workers work later to accommodate customers in time zones to the west.
McKay says he has six video calls a day on average. Typically a banker in a branch shows the customer to a video screen and connects the customer to the call center. There, the bankers are seated in cubicles with sliding doors to make transactions private. One day in early March, McKay talked on video to customers in the District of Columbia, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The bank’s other home-lending video call center is in Plano, Texas. Video call centers in other cities house bankers who specialize in investment products and small business loans.
To date, the bank has put most of its video screens in branches in Southeast and Central U.S. markets, as well as the New York City metropolitan area. The bank plans for future U.S. screens to go mostly in the Central, Southwest and Northwest regions.
(Reporting by Deon Roberts)