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Consumers are eager to bank by phone, and financial institutions are rising to the occasion, a study commissioned by International Business Machines Corp. shows.

Of 1,001 adults in the poll, 64 percent said such services would make banking more convenient.

That included 81 percent of people under 35. By comparison, only 45 percent of those over 65 feel that telephone banking offers added convenience, according to the survey conducted in April and May by ICR Survey Research Group.

When ICR polled 250 vice presidents of retail banking operations to determine if their institutions offered banking by phone, 37 percent said they provide the service and 8 percent said they are planning to introduce it within two years.

Large banks are currently the major suppliers of such services, and banks with assets of at least $100 million will account for most future growth, the study concluded.

"These banks are more conscious of the cost of human capital," said Donald Crosbie, vice president of marketing at InterVoice Inc. of Dallas. Because larger institutions usually have a well-defined customer service area, they can see the effect that such a system has on the bottom line easier than can smaller banks "where everybody answers the phone," he said.

Banks with at least two locations, or 42 percent of the total, offer the service, while 28 percent of those with just one location have teleservicing functions.

The service, which is part of the bank's Flex Banking package, is both voice activated and touch-tone driven. Consumers can access savings, checking, and credit card accounts, make installment and home equity loan payments, and get interest rate information. They also can retrieve updates on automated teller machine and debit card transactions.

More and more financial institutions are looking at banking by phone, not only as a customer convenience, but also as a way to cut costs, the study found.

The payback from such a system usually takes six to 12 months, Crosbie said.

NCNB National Bank, the principal subsidiary of NCNB Corp., Charlotte, N.C., recently claimed a 2 1/2 -month payback, he said.

Three-fourths of institutional officials said that improving customer service was a motivation for adding the service, while 40 percent said they expected greater efficiencies. Twenty two percent said telephone banking facilities lowered in-branch traffic, and 20 percent said the move freed personnel for other duties.

Higher-income consumers are most receptive to banking by phone. Fifty five percent of those from households with annual incomes under $15,000 find the voice-response systems convenient, while 76 percent of those earning more than $50,000 are willing to use such a system.

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