By ROBIN SIDEL
The old-fashioned bank-teller line is getting an overhaul.
Banks are installing a raft of new gizmos—touch screens, video-tellers and self-serve kiosks with more functions than traditional automated-teller machines—in hopes of reducing waiting time for customers and freeing up employees to sell products that boost the bottom line.
The devices are the latest technological advances designed to make banking more efficient for the declining number of consumers who still use brick-and-mortar branches, while cutting costs at the same time.
Just as airlines now encourage passengers to check themselves in for flights, bank customers are increasingly able to cash checks, buy money orders and get cash in unusual denominations on their own—rather than tellers “doing all the work for the consumer,” says Brian Bailey, vice president of branch transformation at NCR Corp., NCR -0.52% which makes ATMs and other equipment for the banking industry. It can even speed up transactions: Mr. Bailey estimates that antiquated computer systems require some tellers to make as many as 40 keystrokes for a simple deposit.
Starting this summer, Wells Fargo & Co. customers will be able to request an email receipt by tapping on a keypad at the teller window. Later in the year, they will be able to use the keypad to move funds between accounts.
“We continue to see a lot of relevance in our store-based transactions,” says Jonathan Velline, executive vice president at Wells Fargo. The San Francisco-based banking giant has the largest U.S. branch network, with more than 6,000.
The new branch technology was a key topic earlier this month when Todd Maclin, who runs the consumer-banking division of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., addressed investors at an industry conference. The big New York bank is testing machines in a handful of branches that conduct teller-type transactions that can’t be handled by an ATM. The bank says that check-cashing requests at the teller line dropped 40% after the self-service teller was introduced.
Mr. Maclin said that Chase is planning to expand the test to 100 branches later this year, and to 1,000 branches over the next 12 to 18 months. Such technology investments are expected to help it reduce branch operating costs by as much as $500 million a year.
The upgrades allow bank employees to focus on selling loans, mortgages and other products. Any increase in sales could be significant as banks search for new ways to boost profits during a period of low interest rates, anemic loan demand and rising costs from new regulations.
Coastal Federal Credit Union in North Carolina last year found a way to go high-tech without sacrificing the virtues of face-to-face contact.
At Coastal’s 15 branches, customers are directed to video screens that connect to 36 tellers in a room at the credit union’s Raleigh headquarters. The tellers remotely authorize transactions, review check images and dispense cash, just as they would in person.
Willard Ross, chief retail officer for the credit union, says the bank cut costs by 40% by eliminating its branch tellers. He says customers still get personal contact and the remote tellers can make judgment calls that an automated system can’t, such as deciding whether a check can be cashed immediately.
“Branch managers don’t have to worry about manning the teller operations anymore, so they can be totally focused on the members who walk in,” Mr. Ross says. As a result, he says, product sales have nearly doubled in the branches.
The video-teller machines also can reduce a bank’s real-estate costs because they take up far less room than a whole row of teller windows, NCR’s Mr. Bailey says. They are about 20% more expensive than the average ATM, which costs about $45,000, he said.
Bank of America Corp. BAC -2.96% also has tested video-tellers in four of its markets and is currently reviewing the results, a spokeswoman said.
It isn’t clear whether the industry’s new efforts will take off, given that other technology tests haven’t fared so well. Initial attempts to get people to bank from their home computers in the 1980s flopped, for example.
Indeed, some consultants say people who typically go into a branch do so because they want human contact. “Pushing people to a screen doesn’t necessarily meet the needs or desires of the consumer coming in,” says Tom Mataconis, vice president at Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a firm in Charlotte, N.C., that advises the banking industry on technology issues.
Write to Robin Sidel at email@example.com
In an update to the latest scandal to hit Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, the 33-year-old responded cryptically in a microblog message to allegations that she had been paid to have sex with disgraced former top official, Bo Xilai.
The actress, who is filming in Guangzhou, posted a comment on her microblog that described the “fraudulent” rain on the film set, along with a photo of a colleague on a ladder sprinkling “rain” – actually water from a hose – on the actors.
She wrote in Chinese that while it was a challenge to “defraud heaven”, it was nothing compared to thinking there is rain after “hearing the wind”, as that requires only one’s imagination, reported my paper.
Zhang is reportedly under investigation by the Chinese government and barred from leaving the country.
Hong Kong’s Apple daily and other Chinese media reported that the pair was first introduced by Bo’s associate, Xu Ming, 41, who is the founder and chairman of Dalian Shide Group.
Sources say Xu confessed to paying Zhang 6 million yuan (S$1.2 million) in 2007, to have sex with her for the first time.
He later negotiated a deal for Bo to have sex with Zhang, for 10 million yuan (S$2 million).
Reports say the 33-year-old actress slept with Bo at least 10 times between 2007 and 2011 in Beijing.
The Chinese media also estimated that Zhang’s sexual transactions with various rich and powerful figures have netted her 700 million yuan over the last 10 years.
This includes 180 million yuan in cash from Xu.
Her wealth from prostituting herself was not taxed, due to intervention from Xu and other government officials.
Xu reportedly pimped the Chinese actress out to two other high-level officials as well.
Media news outlets speculate that investigations into these allegations could explain why Zhang was absent from the recently concluded Cannes film festival.
Her film, Dangerous Liaisons, premiered at the festival, which her co-star, Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung, attended.
Zhang claimed she was busy shooting the film, “The Grandmasters”, and was unable to attend the festival.
According to Hong Kong and Taiwanese media reports, the actress has remained uncontactable for comment on the allegations.
Zhang was previously embroiled in other scandals.
In 2010, she was accused of exaggerating the funds raised for the Sichuan earthquake. Instead of the US$1million (S$1.34million) announced in 2008, the star only managed to raise US$400,000.
In 2009, Zhang was accused of cheating a married businessman of S$41.2 million, with whom she was alleged to be sexually involved with, while still engaged to Israeli billionaire Vivi Nevo.
Nevo and Zhang reportedly split up in 2010.
BEIJING – A popular Chinese microblogging site is introducing new rules that could see users banned for posting about sensitive political topics.
Sina Weibo imposed “user contracts” on Monday that award each of its 300 million microbloggers a starting score of 80 points. Points can be deducted for online comments that are judged to be offensive and, at zero, a user’s account will be cancelled.
Users who suffer lesser penalties can restore their points by avoiding violations for two months.
Deductions will cover a wide range of wrongdoing, including spreading rumours, calling for protests, promoting cults or superstitions and impugning China’s honour, the service stated.
The contracts will also punish time-honoured tactics bloggers have used to avoid censorship, like disguising comments on censored topics by using homonyms (where two different Chinese characters have nearly identical sounds), puns and other dodges.
For instance, to evade censors, bloggers have referred to the dissident artist Ai Weiwei by using the Chinese characters for “love the future”, a rough homonym of his name.
It is unclear how many points a user would lose for a specific violation. But Sina’s officials said microbloggers could increase their score to 100 by supporting unspecified promotional activities and would receive “low credit” warnings below 60 points.
Government censors already control what appears on the Internet, and corporate minders at Sina Weibo and other sites have long complied with their orders, deleting offensive comments, sly homonyms and posts that rile the government’s sensibilities.
The point system, however, appears to be a muted effort to extend that control by warning users when they approach the boundaries of official tolerance. Internet companies like Sina that are privately operated tread a thin line between censorship that is too lax and might draw government punishment, and overly strict rules that would quash the lively debates that make the services popular.
The Chinese propaganda authorities have progressively clamped down on the freedoms of Internet users since last year, when a high-speed train wreck in Zhejiang province unleashed an online flood of angry anti-government comments. Agencies
- State-of-the art technology for landmine detection suffers from a variety of technical problems such as high false alarm rates, insufficient detection probability and indirect information. This results in very small clearance rates of mine fields, and, as a matter of fact, very large landscapes in Africa, Asia and on the Balkan are and will be restricted areas for a long time in the future.
As a major technology step forward, YXLON International X-Ray GmbH has developed a prototype of a mobile 450 kV scanner system based on the principles of X-ray backscatter technology (XBT). The new scanner system has the following capabilities and advantages :
- The information depth is sufficient to detect all regularly placed mines
- XBT is able to detect metal-free landmines
- landmines buried in a variety of soil conditions including various types of vegetation will be detected with XBT.
The most important argument for XBT, however, is the fact that XBT in contrast to all other detection methods is a direct imaging technique. This is possible because the scatter signal is directly proportional to the material density of the irradiated volume.
The X-ray backscatter technology has the potential for low false alarm rates and a high detection probability. In this presentation, results obtained with a prototype scanner are given. The scanner has been tested very successfully on a German military test site. Looking at the high resolution images, a trained operator is able to identify the buried object immediately.
- When looking at information available to the public on the subject of landmines, one can read that approximately 100 million landmines are buried on planet earth. The list of countries most severely afflicted by these objects comprises Afghanistan, Korea, former Yugoslavia, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia etc. It is estimated that on average every year some 100.000 mines are cleared, but a tenfold number of new mines appears somewhere else on earth. In total, with current clearance rates, it would take several hundreds of years to remove all of them. Behind this, there appear at least three major problems :
- the deposition of new mines
- the very limited technology to detect mines and
- the very limited funding.
With the treaty of Ottawa (1997), hope was raised that in the future the deposition rate of new mines may fall drastically. Amongst others, the donation of the 1997 peace Nobel prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has also increased the public awareness of all problems related to landmines. This resulted in increased funding for mine removal campaigns and for the development of new technologies. However, as a matter of fact, there is still a technological problem in detecting the mines.
It must be emphasised that landmines exist in the form of anti-personnel mines (APM) and anti-tank mines (ATM). On the long run, the treaty of Ottawa will result in decreasing numbers of APM�s in the world because production, usage and storage of such mines is forbidden in those more than 100 countries which ratified the contract. However, as ATM�s are not restricted by this treaty, a decreasing usage of those types can hardly be predicted. Detection technologies for all types of landmines are definitely needed for usage in the next decades to come.