May 30, 2006

The envelope's days are numbered at Wells Fargo—at least it is for ATM deposits. The San Francisco-based financial institution, like others, is beginning to convert its fleet of cash machines into envelope-free ATMs. The Northern California area will be the first to sport the bank's new machines that allow people to deposit cash and checks minus the envelopes.

The 400 Wincor Nixdorf ATMs, located in Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, will make the deposit experience faster and more agreeable for customers, according to Jonathan Velline, head of Wells Fargo's ATM banking division. "Existing ATM depositors no longer need to search for an envelope, add up their check deposits and enter the amount—the machine does all the work for them," Velline explains. "Some customers aren't comfortable making envelope deposits because they aren't sure when the envelope will be opened or when their deposit will be processed. With an envelope-free ATM, we are able to give those customers instant access to their cash deposits and a later cutoff time for their check deposits (extended from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The check images on the ATM screen and the receipt provide additional assurance that Wells Fargo has received their deposit." Customers can also check their deposit record on wellsfargo.com.

Velline says the new ATMs are designed to be as user-friendly as possible. Customers simply insert their checks in one stack into the ATM, and the ATM does the rest—scanning the front and back of each check, reading the amount, doing the math and presenting the customers with a summary of their deposits. The bank is using the Wincor Nixdorf machines since they are the only manufacturer who makes ATMs that are fully capable of taking bulk check deposits, relates Velline. He says Wells Fargo tested single check deposit machines from other vendors, but customers complained that the process was too slow. This feature, coupled with the instant availability of cash, are what differentiate the Wells Fargo offering from competitors', he says. "It is new technology and you see some banks just taking a vendor's generic application and maybe adding their branding to it but not much more," he claims. "They're able to test the hardware, but aren't able to deliver any real benefits to their customers, such as instant availability to cash, or electronically reading the check amount."

Wells Fargo also developed its own user interface for the envelope-free ATMs. "We developed our own ATM customer interface and software that is tightly integrated with the rest of the bank and our existing WebATM platform," relates Velline. He says the bank has been piloting envelope-free ATMs since 2002 and learned much from the experience. "Earlier versions of hardware and software were not that intuitive, and some customers had difficulty with their first use," Velline recalls. "Wells Fargo used customer feedback to create our exclusive interface, which makes the deposit very easy to use."

As with any new technology, there is always going to be a learning curve on the part of the customers, agrees Velline. However, he says the bank is taking an aggressive approach to teaching people how to use these machines, including signage, animated videos throughout the deposit process and having "ambassadors" on hand to answer any questions.

The conversion should be completed by the end of 2006, says Velline. Although the bank has no immediate plans to convert the rest of its ATMs to the envelope-free versions, long-term, that is the path Wells Fargo hopes to take. "We haven't yet determined our timeline for installing envelope-free ATMs in other markets, but we expect that someday all of Wells Fargo's 6,500 ATMs will be envelope-free."

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