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First Wells Fargo ATM Opens in Times Square

At an ATM unveiling in midtown New York City, Wells Fargo EVP Jonathan Velline demonstrates new ATM features and shares some of the bank's ATM and branch strategy.

Amidst the bright lights and fast-moving digital signs in Times Square, one new display went up last night on Broadway at 47th Street that's not flashy, but quietly distinctive -- Wells Fargo's first sign in the New York area above its first branded ATM in the region.

We braved the throngs of tourists and bitter cold last night to see the unveiling of the ATM as well as executive vice president and head of ATM banking and store strategy Jonathan Velline, who was astonishingly energetic and cheerful given that he'd come in on the red-eye from San Francisco that morning. "I rented this coat at the airport," he joked.

The new ATM, one of Wells Fargo's 12,000 "You Know Me" machines, features the bank's new Cash Tracker feature, which tells the customer how much cash he's withdrawn versus his budget; personalization (remembering the customer's language preferences, account nicknames and such from previous ATM or online banking transactions); bulk check deposit (you can stuff 30 checks in the machine at once and do same-day deposit until 9:00 p.m.); a touch screen interface; the ability to have receipts emailed to you; a stamp dispenser; and an audio option that combined with Braille keys enables blind people to use the ATM.

A group of reporters from India were impressed by the check imaging but questioned whether it really worked. New Yorkers are used to ATM check imaging since JPMorgan Chase started offering it in 2008. However, the Chase ATMs take just one check at a time and don't offer the other special features.

Velline and Wells Fargo stand out in having a vision for the bank's ATMs and in investing money and effort in them. While many banks seem to simply buy whatever machine the ATM manufacturers offer, Wells Fargo writes all its own ATM software and constantly thinks up new features. "There are very few ATM geeks in the world," Velline says. "We focus on ATMs with the same intensity other banks put into online and mobile." (Wells Fargo also, of course, invests in and develops its mobile and online channels, and has worked to integrate these channels with the ATMs alongside integrating Wells Fargo and Wachovia systems.) "If mobile phones advanced at the rate of ATM technology, they would still be bricks," Velline says. "We're always moving forward with the technology." And because the bank develops its own software, "if we have an idea in February, we can have it up in September," he says.

Velline sees the ATM as a critical component to the overall customer experience and even calls ATMs little stores. "The customers we serve are getting more technically savvy, they're used to the design and ease of use they get from retail companies like Apple, they come to expect that from every device they use," he says. One way to keep customers happy is to let machines like ATMs do work for them. "It's hard to keep track of spending, it's hard to stick to a budget, it used to be hard to deposit checks," he says. "Why not let the machine do these things?"

On March 12, all the Wachovia branches and the 25 ATMs in New York and Connecticut will convert to Wells Fargo branding. "We'll be hiring more staff in our stores; it's a great story in today's environment," says Joseph Kirk, executive vice president and regional president overseeing all the Wachovia, soon to be Wells Fargo, metro area branches, who also stood outside in the cold to welcome journalists to the ATM unveiling. "We'll be adding ATMs and enhanced technology to our existing facilities. Customers will see new signs and new branding but a lot of the same people."

The branches will be equipped with Wells Fargo's teller and platform automation, for instance, and a device the bank developed that provides an ATM-style interface at the teller window, that lets the customer identify herself and conduct certain transactions paperlessly, the way travelers conduct self-check-in at an airport. "People are already using their PIN at the ATM, to have to fill out paper at the teller window and then have the teller key in the information doesn't make sense," Velline says. "By automating that, we can make it a better and more intuitive customer experience." The re-branded branches will have flat-screen TVs displaying product and community information, similar to what Umpqua Bank has done with its branches of the future and Citi has done in its new Union Square branch.

Asked about the type of self-serve video kiosks some banks have installed in their branches, Velline says he thinks about this technology but would would proceed with caution. "It can feel like an efficiency play if the customer who comes in to speak with a banker is pushed over to a self-service machine," he says. "The key would be to you present it to the customer so that they know it's for them, that they don't feel that you haven't staffed appropriately."

To designs its customer-facing technologies, the bank does a lot of prototyping and focus grouping combined with surveys, always following up with those who give a low score to understand better what they didn't like.

The Times Square ATM is the last of the 5,000 Wachovia machines to be upgraded to Wells Fargo ATMs. Wachovia customer satisfaction has risen 10% since the new machines were installed, Velline says.

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