Jamaica Gleaner / Use of automated banking services by rural customers continue to lag urban areas, but Brian Boothe, the head of retail banking at National Commercial Bank (NCB), expects they will eventually follow the trend, and is investing in making it happen.
It’s a direction the bank committed to several years ago, backed by large investments, but even with recent problems with its teller machine network in recent weeks, Boothe said the bank would be spending more on its electronic platforms to drive more customers to the machines.
NCB, which is Jamaica’s largest bank, currently has 274 ABMs, including 88 iABMs, or intelligent banking machines, that dispense cash and accept cheque and cash deposits, 36 kiosks and 12,000 point-of-sale machines deployed nationwide.
Boothe said there are pockets of resistance to the machines, but the data shows that customer use of the ABMs is growing.
“For selected migratable transactions that can be processed either in-branch or at the ABMs, we have seen a 66 per cent reduction in the volumes processed in branch, while at the same time there has been a 100 per cent increase in volumes processed via the ABMs,” he told the Financial Gleaner .
But one consequence of the bank’s success in nudging customers away from human interaction in-branch to the machines is it has put pressure on the technology to keep pace with usage.
In the past year, machine down times have increased for the bank to do upgrades, high demand has led to “cash outages” and network connectivity issues, the banker noted.
NCB is now trying to up its game on machine management and communication with customers.
“We have taken significant steps to rectify these issues. We have initiated the installation of new machines islandwide, equipment and software upgrades, investment in tooling to monitor the machines for uptime and cash balances, and have revisited service level arrangements with our various providers,” said Boothe.
“In addition, we are revamping our mechanisms for notifying customers when ABMs are out of service,” he said.
Boothe is mum on the level of investments in the ABM and iABM networks. However, the banking group has invested around $5 billion in computer software alone in the past three years, its financial reports show, which would have included outlay for the Bank on the Go initiative.
Approximately 35 per cent NCB branches are spread across small-population parishes. The other 65 per cent are spread across the parishes of Kingston, St Catherine, St James, and St Ann.
All the bank’s iABMs are located inside its banking halls. For the regular ABMs, 37 per cent are also at branch sites and 67 per cent at offsite locations.
Boothe said usage of the ABMs has doubled in three years, to more than 1.2 million transactions monthly, but, “as expected, the urban city centres reflect the highest usage given that they have the highest concentration of both customers and machines”.
In Kingston and St Andrew, which has the highest usage, 37 per cent of all transactions are processed through ABMs, followed by St Catherine with 16 per cent.
Portland reflects the lowest usage, at 1.3 per cent of all transactions processed.
The bank is hoping for a turnaround in rural Jamaica communities, through the restructuring of services and the deployment of more machines.
Starting Monday, July 16, for example, all cash transactions in Chapelton, Clarendon, will be migrated to ABMs in the ‘Bank on the Go’ area of the branch.
Boothe said one regular ABM and one iABM are already in place, with another iABM to be installed within the week.
“We have observed that our Chapelton clients have displayed a very high propensity to utilise the electronic channels. Business customers may utilise the services of courier partners for the movement or processing of their cash deposits,” said the banker.
Outside of those in Chapelton, there are also 11 other ABMs deployed in various locations across the parish, he added.
Since NCB’s introduction of its Bank on the Go halls, services at the ABMs have been expanding to include bill payments, online banking, phone top-ups, embassy letter requests, cash deposits to linked accounts and third party NCB accounts, personal manager’s cheque requests, credit card cash payments, and cheque deposits.
The most popular transactions, said Boothe, are cash withdrawals – more than 460,000 transactions per month; and cash deposits – more than 200,000 transactions per month; and bill payments – more than 50,000 transactions per month.