What to Look for in New Cash and Check Automation Technology

Today’s financial institutions are tasked with providing quality customer experiences across a myriad of banking channels. With the increased focus on digital and mobile banking, bankers are looking for ways to automate branch processes for greater cost and time savings.

This need should lead financial institution leaders exploring and implementing cash and check automation solutions. These solutions can improve accuracy, reduce handling time and labor, lower cost, deliver better forecasting and offer better visibility, establish enhanced control with custom reporting and provide greater security and compliance across all locations, making transactions seamless and streamlining the branch experience. However, as bank leaders begin to implement a cash and check automation solution, they must remember how a well-done integration should operate and support the bank in its reporting and measurement functions.

Ask Yourself: Is This the Right Solution?
When a bank installs a new cash or check automation solution, the question that should immediately come to mind for a savvy operations manager is: “How well is this integrated with my current teller software?” Regardless of what the solution is designed to do, the one thing that will make or break its effectiveness is whether it was programmed to leverage all the available functionality and to work seamlessly with the banks’ existing systems.

For some financial institutions, the question might be as simple as: “Is this device and its functionality supported by my software provider?” If not, the bank might be left to choose from a predetermined selection of similar products, which may or may not have the same capabilities and feature sets that they had in mind.

The Difference Between True Automation and Not
A well-supported and properly integrated cash automation solution communicates directly with the teller system. For example, consider a typical $100 request from a teller transaction to a cash recycler, a device responsible for accepting and dispensing cash. Perhaps the default is for the recycler to fulfill that request by dispensing five $20 notes. However, this particular transaction needs $50 bills instead. If your cash automation solution does not directly integrate with the teller system, the teller might have to re-enter the whole transaction manually, including all the different denominations. With a direct integration, the teller system and the recycler can communicate with each other and adjust the rest of the transaction dynamically. If the automation software is performing correctly, there is no separate keying process alongside the teller system into a module; the process is part of the normal routine workflow within the teller environment. This is a subtle improvement emblematic of the countless other things that can be done better when communication is a two-way street.

Automation Fueling Better Reporting and Monitoring
A proper and robust solution must be comprehensive: not just controlling equipment but having the ability to deliver on-demand auditing, from any level of the organization. Whether it is a branch manager checking on a particular teller workstation, or an operations manager looking for macro insights at the regional or enterprise level, that functionality needs to be easily accessible in real time.

The auditing and general visibility requirements denote why a true automation solution adds value. Without seamless native support for different types of recyclers, it’s not uncommon to have to close and relaunch the program any time you need to access a different set of machines. A less polished interface tends to lead to more manual interactions to bridge the gaps, which in turn causes delays or even mistakes.

Cash and check automation are key to streamlining operations in the branch environment. As more resources are expanding to digital and mobile channels, keeping the branch operating more efficiently so that resources can focus on the customer experience, upselling premium services, or so that resources can be moved elsewhere is vital. Thankfully, with the proper cash and check automation solutions, bank leaders can execute on this ideal and continue to improve both the customer experience and employee satisfaction.

A Banker’s Story: Lessons from a Start Up Bank

2-7-14-Samuels.pngSeven years ago after I left a large regional bank as president of the Nashville, Tennessee market, I wrestled with the idea of starting a bank, considering that as well as other career options. Weighing the pros and cons, my wife wrote on a cocktail napkin, “Ron likes to be in charge.” That was the end of that discussion and the start of Avenue Bank.

Over the past few years, I’ve been asked many times about starting a bank during the economic crisis and how we managed to survive, and thrive. So, within the limitations of this space, following are some of the keys to our success.

The #1 rule in real estate, “location, location, location,” proves true in banking as well, because your market has a significant impact on your ability to be successful. Market demographics, business environment and real estate values all determine whether your market is on the upswing or downturn—whether investments will be made or if they will go to other market areas.

In Nashville, we are enjoying unprecedented national recognition for our positive market growth, the rebound of real estate values, and our ability to recruit business investments. In the past 20 years, Nashville’s population has grown 60 percent with a strong demographic profile, and 234,000 new jobs have been created. But along with that, Nashville’s unique character and personality, our creative spirit, really defines us.

In founding Avenue Bank in 2007, we wanted to embody that creative spirit and redefine how clients experience banking. We established our brand with client evangelists who tell others about their surprising and incomparable relationship with Avenue Bank.

With more than 60 banks in our market area, people would say to us, “We don’t need another bank,” so we took that statement head on and one of our first marketing phrases was, “Not Another Bank.” It was a bold introduction, and delivering on that promise meant that we had to hire the best, empower them to take care of clients, create a great work environment, and focus every employee on achieving a few well-defined goals, as a team, each year. The strategic selection of our four branch locations positioned us in proximity of 70 percent of the deposits in this market area. And the decision to open all four within 18 months of starting the bank was another bold move that showed our commitment to the market.

One of the biggest factors in our success has absolutely been living by the mantra “right person in the right job.” Every employee has a role, and the team has to work together to deliver the kind of service we are known for. So, those employees who do not directly interact with clients know that they are in a key support role that is directly tied to client service.

Our concierge banking model allowed us to staff the branch locations leanly, with every banker trained to conduct transactions as well as open accounts or serve any other retail banking need. The use of free-standing TCRs (teller cash recyclers) eliminated the barriers of a traditional teller row, creating a modern and accessible environment. A benefit of our growth and success is our ability to hire top performing employees in a highly competitive environment. We seek servant leaders who have a real passion for taking care of clients, and we place a great importance on finding those that are the right cultural fit.

As a recognized employer of choice, we have been able to recruit seasoned commercial and private client bankers to join our team; many of them cite our local decision making as key to their decision to move. The same is true for experienced operations associates, many of them seeking an environment where they are valued.

As with any organization, leadership is vitally important. We have built trust in our leadership team by being transparent about our finances and decisions that impact employees. We use weekly all-employee meetings and newsletters to communicate, avoiding the interpretation that can occur when messages are passed through a hierarchy. Employees see and hear directly from me. Our leadership team establishes focused goals, bears the burden of tough decisions, and sets the tone for success.

I feel extremely proud when I look at our balance sheet and see $890 million in total assets, all organic growth. Avenue Bank achieved profitability in the first quarter of 2010, and now has shown 16 consecutive quarters of sustained profitability through 2013. Last year, our loan portfolio grew 26 percent, again all organic growth, which I attribute to the right bankers, in the right job, and a harmonious relationship with our credit team that works together to get a deal done.

But even as we look forward to achieving our next milestone of $1 billion in assets, I am more satisfied thinking about the relationships those numbers represent, the jobs we have created, and the support we’ve given to so many organizations in our community. Avenue Bank has more than fulfilled my vision.