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Banking on Tech: Arvest Among Those Investing in Interactive Devices

3 min read

Arvest Bank’s “leap of faith” turned out to be a success.

In 2018, the bank, headquartered in Bentonville, decided to implement interactive teller machines, starting with a location in North Little Rock. The ITM works as a traditional automated teller machine (ATM) with the added benefit of having access to a live bank employee through video conferencing.

The technology was first used by financial institutions in 2010 and has since grown in popularity. For Arvest, the ITM — which the bank calls an ATM with live teller, or ATMw/LT — came in handy when the COVID-19 pandemic reduced its traditional 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. banking hours.

“It is safe to say we are always innovating; we are always testing, always evolving,” said Ron Witherspoon, president of Arvest Bank in central Arkansas. “Unless you try something you just don’t know. It was like, ‘Let’s try this.’ It was a leap of faith and from that we started trying it at other branches.

“That led to other markets and so on and so forth.”

Witherspoon said Arvest Bank now has 132 ATMw/LT in 60 locations throughout its four-state footprint. He said he expects the bank to continue to expand its ITM use during the next three years.

Arvest Bank has 32 associates who cover the 132 machines, Witherspoon said. Most work from home or a centralized call-center location; the efficiency allows Arvest Bank to keep its ATMw/LT open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.

“It is a tremendous convenience,” Witherspoon said. “You can also use your app on the phone, but again the ATM with live teller allows us the flexibility to have another channel of convenience.”

Growing Segment

Arvest Bank isn’t alone. Centennial Bank in Conway and First Arkansas Bank & Trust in Jacksonville each have approximately 30 interactive teller machines in the state. Other banks such as Stone Bank in Little Rock and Farmers Bank & Trust in Magnolia also use ITMs.

Roger Sundermeier, chief brand officer for First Arkansas Bank & Trust, said the bank calls its ITMs “QuB,” pronounced “cube.”

“We felt as if we needed something to differentiate and stand out among the noise of interactive teller machines as they were introduced across the market landscape,” Sundermeier said in an email to Arkansas Business. “Think of it like a self-check option at the grocery store. Some tasks can require a simple transaction that the customer can address on their own, but some consumers prefer seeing someone face-to-face. We can offer the best of both worlds.”

Witherspoon said he is confident Arvest Bank will continue to expand its use of the machines, and he expects many other banks in the state to do likewise. The machines themselves can cost as much as $80,000, with supporting infrastructure adding another $200,000, according to the American Banking Association, but Witherspoon said they can make banking much more efficient.

“I don’t think there is any question we will see more and more deployment of ATM with live teller machines,” Witherspoon said. “There is definitely an economics to it. The resources it takes to staff facilities with salaries and benefits, just the cost of talent, [and now] one person can in essence be in several places at once versus having one person [each] at several locations.”

Old vs. New School

Not every banker is a believer in using ITMs, though.

Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff used ITMs briefly before disbanding the program in 2021. Chief Digital Officer Alex Carriles, a pioneer in the technology, said the ITM could be “intimidating” for customers who didn’t want to have face-to-face conversations when banking. “We didn’t think they were as effective as they appeared to be,” Carriles said. “It wasn’t as well received as we wanted it to be. Those who were comfortable enough with the technology did not need to go to an ATM.”

Gary Head, the CEO of Signature Bank of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said he is too “old school” for ITMs because he wants his customers to develop relationships with his bank employees.

“They’re pretty impersonal,” Head said. “If you pull up to one of my windows and you have a problem, I want you to have the same face every time you pull up. I can’t figure out how to do that with ITMs.”

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