After years of trying to take tellers out of banking, Bank of America will put people back into the experience — via video — in the very machines that replaced them.
The financial services giant said Thursday that it will begin offering live video chats with tellers later this month through a new generation of interactive ATMs that will debut at Bank of America’s Back Bay branch at 133 Massachusetts Ave.
Customers and remote tellers will be able to see and speak to one another in the same way that people talk on the popular video-calling service Skype — face-to-screen interactions that will make possible transactions that cannot be completed on traditional ATMs, such as cashing checks down to the penny and receiving bills in a variety of denominations, including $1, $5, $20, and $100.
It’s Max Headroom, the 1980s artificial intelligence character, come to life, said Mark P. Schwanhausser, director of multichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif.
“There is a little bit of irony when you put it in terms of adding a teller after all the push for electronic banking,” Schwanhausser said. “What this points to is that customers are comfortable with technology when it works, but sometimes you need some hand holding.”
Despite the popularity of electronic banking — about 30 million of Bank of America’s 53 million customers regularly bank online, according to the company — the industry is recognizing that people still crave human interaction. In a study of Generation Y’s banking habits published in January, Javelin found that 40 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds — more likely than anyone else to bank online — said they prefer completing transactions with a teller.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., is promising that the video service, dubbed Teller Assist, will give customers the same quality of assistance they receive when they go into a brick-and-mortar office. Remote tellers will be based at call centers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Newark, Del., and will be available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The bank plans to expand Teller Assist, which provides live help in English or Spanish, to other parts of the country later this year. Eventually, the machines will be able to accept checks and give cash back, split a single deposit into two or more accounts, and process loan or credit card payments.
“We know that customers want to bank on their schedule — not ours — so we are constantly looking at how to deliver more convenient banking options to them,” said Katy Knox, vice president for retail banking and distribution at Bank of America.
The rollout of interactive ATMs by Bank of America represents a major milestone for NCR Corp., which manufactures the machines and showcased them at a banking conference in Boston just over a year ago.
Bank of America is one of the largest banks in the country, and the largest in Massachusetts. It has approximately 5,500 retail banking offices and more than 16,000 ATMs nationwide. It has 256 branches and 1,113 ATMs in Massachusetts.
So far, banks in 20 states have added NCR’s interactive ATMs, including a small community bank in Indiana that already has 50 in operation. In Lowell, LowellBank installed New England’s first interactive ATM in December.
“The response has been good,” said chief executive Richard E. Bolton Jr. “People primarily like using it before we open and after we close, when they normally wouldn’t be able to speak with a teller.”
NCR research has shown that half of all banking transactions still take place at teller windows, said Brian Bailey, NCR’s vice president for branch transformation. In many ways, Bailey said, interactive ATMs are the best of both worlds for banks: They can provide the customers with the personal touch of branch banking while achieving some of the cost savings of electronic banking.
“This isn’t about a cut and run to a teller-less world,” said Bailey. “It’s a realization that a large segment of the population still prefers to do their banking at branch offices.”