The ATMs taught us we could mostly do without a teller; soon you may no longer need someone to escort you to your safe deposit box.
SunTrust Bank recently opened an Innovation Branch in Atlanta. It is home to SafeStore Auto, a fully automated safe deposit box system that allows you to access your valuables using your debit/credit card, pin number and a biometric hand scan that uses your biometric hand print to authenticate your identity.
You swipe your debit/credit card and enter your pin number to gain access to a private room. Once inside, you swipe your card and enter a pin number again. The pin can be the same as your debit/credit card, or a unique code for safe deposit. A biometric hand scan confirms your identity. The box is then automatically delivered to the private room, where you can use your key to open the safe deposit box.
For sure, it sounds cool, like something in movie.
"It is the first of its kind to be installed by a financial institution in the United States. The technology is already used in Europe, the Middle East and Asia," says Tom McDermott, senior vice president retail channel, for SunTrust Bank.
Why this, why now?
Research has shown that customers are looking for more self-service opportunities, says McDermott. He says the new system is not only easier to access but also has enhanced security.
"We are constantly looking at new technology and the feasibility it has for our clients and our branch network," says McDermott.
Over the last year, SunTrust and Hamilton Safe, which built the system, worked to find the right location to test the concept and to come up with the right locations to deploy the technology going forward. What is SunTrust expecting? "This should improve the overall branch experience, and provide options to deploy a safe deposit system in smaller branch formats and expand safe deposit boxes in existing locations where we have maximized capacity in existing full size bank safes," says McDermott.
For now, no decisions have been made on when SafeStore Auto will expand to other branch locations.
Once again, the future has arrived. But will other institutions follow suit?
"It’s interesting that high tech bells and whistles are being used for a low-tech product. What’s the motivation? It likely has to do with efficiency, banks are looking to save on labor," says Joe Ridout, a spokesperson for Consumer Action.
He says almost half of the safe deposit boxes out there are empty and their use is declining and some institutions are eliminating them. The customer base for safe deposit boxes also skews older, who may not be as interested in the technology.
Ridout says while there are advantages of safe deposit boxes, the cash in them is not FDIC insured and there can be problems if your will is in the box. "You might need a court order to get access to it," says Ridout, who says people should keep in mind options like home safes and newer options like cloud-based document storage.
The change could indeed be the start of a trend. "The potential for higher levels of security through biometrics exists. Higher levels of security could end up authenticating users of conventional safe deposit boxes in the future as well," says Doug Johnson, American Bankers Association vice president, risk management policy.
However, "School is still out on whether automated boxes will be widely adopted," says Johnson. "We will see banks experiment with a variety of deployments and perhaps target certain types of markets. It will be several years before we really know the ultimate level of customer acceptance."