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VOL. 129 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SunTrust Joins Effort to Upgrade Bank Branches

KATHLEEN FOODY | Associated Press

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ATLANTA (AP) – The largest bank based in Georgia has joined a national push to upgrade branches, spurred by customers who prefer online banking to waiting in a teller line.

Two SunTrust locations – one already open inside a food court at the bank's Atlanta headquarters and another scheduled to open this summer in the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. – will test customers' response to new technology. Bank officials said they will use that feedback to help determine where and when to roll out the updates at other branches.

The Atlanta location's entryway is anchored by an 80-inch touchscreen and soon to-be-installed video ATM kiosks that let customers make quick deposits or withdrawals and talk to a teller after hours. Against an inside wall, a tablet bar holds Android and Apple products loaded with the SunTrust applications. A back room the size of a small closet contains a robotic safety deposit box system. Customers use their bank card and handprint to receive their box without assistance from a bank employee.

Banks across the country are opening similar branches to combat lower numbers of visits and sales. In Georgia, Brand Bank and United Bank have previously rolled out some of the concepts being tested at SunTrust and nationwide.

"Some of these concepts are not cheap, so we don't want to roll them out too fast until we know the return is going to be there for us and also the client, more importantly, that they really want this," said Tom McDermott, SunTrust's senior vice president of sales and channel management.

McDermott and a SunTrust spokeswoman would not say how much the upgrades could cost.

Brian Bailey, vice president of marketing and strategy for Duluth, Georgia-based NCR Financial Services said the technology manufacturer expects banks to complete $150 million in branch upgrades this year, including the NCR "Interactive Teller" video ATM installed at the SunTrust Atlanta location.

"Smaller financial institutions have kind of led the charge and been a little quicker to adopt and deploy technology," Bailey said. "Now we're seeing larger banks begin to make their move."

Any upgrade is a delicate balance for banks. They must convince customers who depend increasingly on mobile or tablet banking that in-branch technology is valuable, not decorative. Bob Meara, an analyst with Celent research and consulting firm, said while adding more self-service options will likely decrease the number of employees needed in each branch, that can't be the sole objective.

"If banks cut costs but foot traffic continues to dwindle, that's postponing the inevitable," Meara said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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