Piraeus Bank Launches an Innovative e-Branch

This post is guest authored by Mr. Voutsas Theocharis, Assistant General Manager, Group IT Operations, Piraeusbank Group.

Today, the term “digital transformation” is widely used in the banking industry, in order to describe  the trend of internal process reengineered through the use of technology,  but also to address the strong customer demand for fully digital banking services which can be offered conveniently anytime, anywhere. However, as banks indulge in this transformation journey they face an increasing risk of alienating older customers who are unwilling to conducting banking without human contact and facilitation. Piraeus Bank is providing a realistic answer to this need through the launch of a new type of physical (“brick-and-mortar”) branch called “e-Branch.”

The e-Branch is designed with the ambition to combine the comfort that a customer feels in a traditional branch, with the fast service that technology can offer through the use of a modern digital infrastructure. Special effort is put into the provision of systems, targeting customers already comfortable with self-service, but also to include the proper amount of human element, which allows more traditional customers to transact, and in the process, familiarize themselves with the digital world.

The main concept governing the architectural design of the “e-Branch” is that of a friendly and warm environment which can make customers “feel at home.” Technology is extensively used, but it tries to remain hidden and noninvasive while at the same time easily accessible. The customers are treated in a way that they understand that they do not have to adjust themselves into the ways of technology but the other way around. The interior of the branch is designed after a “home-kitchen concept,” which helps to create a familiar, warm atmosphere and an easily accessible digital environment that attracts customers. Upon entering the e-Branch, customers are faced with a set of interactive, touch sensitive, navigational/informational screens, embedded into a wooden paneled wall, through which they can explore the available services that are offered in the branch and get information about the bank’s latest product offerings.

All self-service machines are either mounted on the walls or hidden inside furniture like the special “totem-like island,” where customers can perform their payments (utilities, taxes, loans, etc.) or even get a coffee and relax in the nearby “living room” area. In the digital corner area customers can sit and use the available tablets or PCs, in order to get acquainted with the e-services of the Bank or execute transactions. The “Remote Teller System” takes the friendly and familiar form of a “kitchen work table,”, while on the other hand, manages to incorporate a number of technologies integrated and connected by the IT division of the bank, resulting in an innovative “Video Teller System.”

Two facilitators are always present physically in the e-Branch, with the responsibility to welcome the customers and provide assistance by guiding them towards the proper station (equipment) which will serve their need. The facilitators are also available to demonstrate the use of the existing machines, provide information on all digital services offered, and help customers onboard the bank’s e-banking service.

The e-Branch can effectively serve individuals and businesses as well as walk-in or prospective customers. The fully automated machines cover a wide array of services expected to cater to what can be perceived as typical everyday banking. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Instant issuance of prepaid gift cards
  • Instant passbook update
  • Instant banknote and coin acceptance and instant deposit to customer account
  • 24/7 full ATM service
  • 24/7 Easypay kiosks, where customers can perform on-line deposits, cash withdrawals and transfers, as well as pay bills, credit cards or loan installments
  • Remote registration in the internet banking through the phone service point
  • Check deposit and payment

In the e-Branch, there is also a shop-in-shop “Exhibition Area,” where customers can become acquainted with the products and services that either Piraeus Bank or third-party companies have to offer. Furthermore, there is a separate private space that serves as a “Meeting Room,” where customers can meet with bank advisors through a video-call and receive consulting services. Customers can also use designated phone lines available for direct communication with Piraeus Bank’s Contact Center. 

Remote Teller

A main feature that differentiates Piraeus Bank’s e-Branch from all the other similar initiatives, is the “Remote Teller” service, which is offered through the Video-Teller-Station (VTS).

VTS is a custom-built machine, meticulously designed and manufactured, utilizing in a seamless integrated fashion a number of different technologies like:  video conferencing, bank note/coin acceptors and dispensers, e-signature, document scanning and recognition, check acceptance and OCR recognition, EMV card acquiring, proximity sensors and a lot more. It has been created in order to make possible the execution of the most common (over 90%) customer transactions made at a conventional cashier desk, without the local physical presence of a teller. The machine consists of a 24-inch screen with an embedded camera and a set of peripheral devices, and follows a “kitchen work desk” horizontal flat design. As the customer approaches, the machine is able to “sense” him/her and raise the screen panel automatically. The only action the customer has to perform, is to simply “touch the screen” which triggers the system to initiate a video conference session with a trained teller siting in a remote location in a cubicle specially designed for the purpose. The teller welcomes the customer and from that point on a typical teller-customer session takes place during which the customer expresses a request and the teller performs whatever banking transaction is needed. Customer identification and verification is performed through the scan of ID card or documents (a specialized photographic scanner is used).

In order to accommodate a complete set of transactions, the machine includes a number of peripheral devices. The customer can deposit or withdraw any amount of money (bulk banknotes and coins), in just one movement. If the customer wants to present a document, it will be scanned (A4) with the option to be retained or returned. Checks can be accepted, scanned and retained using a check scanner. The customer can see the receipt of his transaction on the screen for verification, and approve it by signing on a biometric e-Signature pad. A “conventional” receipt is printed for all transactions via an A4 printer. All the devices of the machine are handled by the remote teller, who uses a specially built application that makes the process very easy and helps to avoid any mistakes. The customer is guided to use all the devices, with the help of bright LED indicators that flash next to each device and via on-screen video animations.

The “Remote Teller” is a new type of banking machine, acting as a hybrid between a human teller and an ATM/APS remote system. It is extremely easy to use, since it requires no technical skills from customers, and simulates the exact experience of a physical branch teller session. On the other hand, it accommodates a significantly larger number of transactions when compared with automated systems like APSs or ATMs since the true human interaction enabled by video banking technology and the configured peripherals allows the customer to describe complex needs. On the other hand, it allows the bank to confidently identify the customer, thus avoiding potential fraud. The VTS machine is a very important asset of Piraeus Bank, and is planned to be deployed in many remote geographical locations where the operation of conventional branches is not financially justified.

There are currently three e-Branches in the Attica region. Their primary purpose is to provide customers with a new, secure environment to perform their daily banking transactions, with both speed and ease. All e-Branches have extended operating hours, compared to traditional branches, and are also open on Saturday for customer convenience.

The success of the e-Branch lies in the number of transactions executed so far. Customers seem to have embraced the new concept and the average transactions per day at the most visited e-Branches are between 500-600, with an increasing trend, a number that represents over 60% of transactions processed through an average conventional branch. Interestingly enough, elderly customers are keen on visiting the e-Branch and happily conduct their daily transactions, with the assistance of the facilitators if needed. The video teller station, which has been designed and manufactured in Greece, is innovative and unique at a European level.

Mr. Voutsas Theocharis is the Assistant General Manager, Group IT Operations at Piraeusbank Group.

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