What A Solitary Ohio ATM Might Tell Us About The Future Of Banking

In a parking lot, surrounded by not much else, is one of very few Bank of America ATMs in Ohio. It might offer a glimpse into the future of banking. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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In a parking lot off Chagrin Boulevard, there's a bit of a mystery that could be giving a glimpse into the future of banking.

The parking lot is what you might expect: filled with cars, there's an apartment complex nearby, and a couple of restaurants. But standing off by itself there is also one of a very small number of Bank of America ATMs in Ohio.

There's no branch, no other noticeable BoA presence...just a solitary ATM. 

JENEEN MARZIANI: “Really, for us, our consumers are changing the way that we really do banking.”

Jeneen Marziani is the Ohio Market President for Bank of America.  She met me at the lonely ATM for an interview, but the cold drove us into a coffee shop.

BoA is the second biggest bank in the country, but it doesn’t have branches here.

It does have two publically-accessible ATMs, the other is in Cincinnati.

MARZIANI: “We’ve been in this state for over 50 years.  I think strategically, just given the traffic, and the proximity to many of other businesses—so whether or not it’s Merrill Lynch, business banking, small business banking—we have a lot of relationships, and this was a major throughway, for us to kind of touch those customers in a different way.” 

Jeneen Marziani is Bank of America's Ohio Market President. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Marziani there mentioned Merrill Lynch, and that’s a big clue as to why this ATM is here. BoA bought the wealth management firm in 2008.

MARZIANI: “Merrill Lynch has been in this market for a very long time, we’re located right down the street.  So we knew we wanted to complement that relationship with Merrill Lynch—which is part of Bank of America—so strategically we made an investment to come here, in this particular location, given the clients and the customers. So that’s how we strategically picked this location.”

Marziani says demographics, customer data, and business plans all go into decision on where to place ATMs, even when it means leasing space in a parking lot.

But this is also part of the changing face of retail banking.

MARZIANI: “The ATMs now, we’re not even making people carry their ATM cards any more, you can do it through their phone. So I think there’s a good mix of people that have been using it, and our volume has been going up, I think as we’ve continued to kind of become more prevalent in the market. That’s why we upgraded this ATM, and you’ll see additional upgrades to this ATM.”

WATSON: “There’s a movement called branch transformation within the industry where most providers are rethinking the number of branches they have, what the format of those might be…”

Devon Watson is the Chief Marketing Officer for Diebold Nixdorf, a global company in Canton providing ATM and other financial technology to banks and retailers.

WATSON: “There’s a key message here that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Banks have different strategies when it comes to how they’re transforming their branch network, in terms of changing the layout, the design, the location, the numbers, etc, but in that story however a financial institution chooses to navigate it, the ATM is going to play a larger and larger role.”

Watson says modern ATMs are more like bank branches in a box, where you can get cash, deposit checks, but also have a video chat with a banker, or have a banker remotely help you finish a transaction.

Some might think the quest for millennial business is driving the innovation, but Watson says it’s not that easy.

WATSON: “Some of their habits are counter intuitive. So you might assume the millennials, they’re digital natives, they’re going to do everything online, etc.  They actually happen to be cash users and they actually happen to opt-in to human channels using call centers, using the branch, etc. So it’s a very interesting population.”

Watson says Ohio has a robust financial technology ecosystem, where some of the innovation for the bank of the future can happen. 

But what exactly that future looks like is an open question. James Thurston is with the Ohio Bankers League.

THURSTON: “I think you will absolutely have almost a hybrid situation developing, where banks will tailor the way they deliver services to the needs of the individual customer. I mean even in branching: the branch of tomorrow will not be the branch of today.”

MARZIANI: “Our financial centers will be a destination to allow us to immerse the client, depending on what they need—so whether or not it’s a financial adviser in order to handle their investments, whether or not it’s a day-to-day transaction that they need to make—those are some of the things that you’ll be able to do in these destinations.”

Jeneen Marziani with Bank of America agrees that the changes to banks will mean catering to how customers want to do business.

And that might mean an office, a new kind of branch, or even, for now, one high-tech ATM in a parking lot in Northeast Ohio.

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