I needed a bunch of fives and tens to make change for a yard sale. My local Bank of America had closed, replaced by a new Express Banking Center down the road. A cheerful woman in a tailored suit greeted me as I walked in. One shiny red wall boasted two ATM’s plus two clunky protrusions jutting into the lobby at counter height. I withdrew $200 from the ATM and received ten $20 bills, as I expected. I walked to the reception desk and asked a second woman if I could get change.
“We don’t have any money in this bank, except what’s in the machines.” She pointed to the bigger machines. “If you use the remote teller, it can distribute fives and tens.”
I followed instructions to make a withdrawal from the cantilevered machine. I anticipated a screen command to request my preferred denominations, but it never displayed. Out came five twenties and a hundred dollar bill. Now I had four hundred dollars but no small bills. I returned to the woman at the counter.
“You have to talk with the remote teller. He or she can distribute smaller bills.”
“You might have told me that before I took out another $200.” My voice must have notched up, because a third woman emerged from the back, eyeing me as a problem customer. Now, the counter woman rose from her chair and escorted me to the machine. I pushed the remote teller button and told the smiling face I wanted five and tens. He explained only fives were available. Fine by me.
I added forty, five-dollar bills to the stack already in my hand and a trio of electronic receipts. The three gracious women eyed me from arms distance.
“Can I get you an envelope for all that cash?”
“No”, I replied, stuffing it into my wallet, now too fat to fold.
“You can redeposit the extra cash you took out.”
At that moment, I was more inclined to remove all my money from Bank of America rather than give any back. I certainly didn’t want to confront another machine. “In the future, better customer service would be to explain how the machine works before people make unwanted withdrawals.”
The woman smiled robotically, but didn’t apologize or acknowledge any value in my comment.
When I leave the bank with money in my pocket I usually feel rich, light-footed and flush. This time, my engorged wallet weighed me down, stuffed but unsatisfied.
Yet how unsatisfying it must be for the three women standing in that pristine, so-called bank. Cashiers with no cash, relegated to directing customers to a disembodied head for simple transactions. Transactions they could surely perform themselves, if only Bank of America would let them.
Who is being served in this machine-centric facility staffed by humans neutered of their purpose? I do most of my banking electronically, but when I need a teller I want a live person, not a face on a screen. Although they might have offered better direction, I felt sorry for the attendants, vestige ornaments of a time when humans actually performed functions rather than loitering in service to the machine.
Maybe my Express Bank is more secure for Bank of America. Maybe it’s more accurate than having human tellers with pesky cash drawers. I can foresee that once the new ‘bank’ is open for some time the three staff people will be reduced two then one, and eventually the facility will operate without any human interface.
The next day I received a survey from Bank of America about my experience at their new Express Banking Center. It included ten specific questions about my interaction with the machine. Not a single query about my experience with the actual people they employed in that space.