This is the future of banking? (a true story)

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This is the future of banking? (a true story)

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This is the future of banking? (a true story)

I have this habit of tossing my change onto the desk at the end of the day, rather than attempting to spend it. I just find it easier spending bills rather than digging through my pockets for exact change, but now I have a big pile of coins on my desk because of my laziness. I had been using CoinStar machines, but I don't like the idea of loosing a percentage of my money to the company. I understand that they need to maintain the machines, collect the change, etc, so I guess it's fair. Commerce Bank offers a free coin machine called the Penny Arcade. It is self-serve, but as soon as someone begins to use it, a representative stands next to the machine to watch and assist if needed. They start pressing the buttons for you and eventually they hand you the receipt from the machine to bring to the next teller for either cash or deposit. I did it once, but kinda got irked out by someone watching over my shoulder while I used the machine. Teachers Federal Credit Union opened a branch in Central Islip - a bit odd, since C.I. is not exactly the nicest of neighborhoods, but it's on the way home from work. They've added a coin machine, restricted to banking customers. I have an account with them so I jumped at the opportunity to try a different machine.

The TCFU coin counting machine is much smaller than Commerce Bank's Penny Arcade - about the size of a washing machine. A sign hangs over it, denoting that it is a coin counting machine. Trust me - if there were no sign, you'd never realize that this machine counted coins. It looks like an over-sized ash tray with a small touch screen on the front. I figured out how it works and dumped my loose change into the hopper. This is the fastest coin counting machine I have ever seen. It counted about three pounds of change in five seconds, leaving me with a paper receipt. Nobody was looking over me. I looked up and around, trying to figure out what to do with this receipt, which had a dollar amount on it.

The main lobby of TCFU has ATM's on the left and back walls with a rope'd off people queue in the middle. It was about 2:30pm, so the lobby was nearly empty. On the right was a room full of desks behind a wall full of windows. I was a bit disoriented, since I couldn't find a teller. Immediately to my right was a person behind a desk with a sign over the desk labeled "Information." I guess that's a start. I walked up to her and inquired what to do with my coin receipt from the washing machine. Her reply : "Bring it to any of the machines with a face on it."

I wasn't sure if I was hearing her right. Why would a machine have a face on it? And, what kind of face would you put on a machine? Is this a cardboard face? Clown face? As I gazed around the room, I was expecting to see Max Headroom - if you are unfamiliar with Max, it was a mid-80's SciFi TV show featuring Matt Frewer, whose head was digitized into a computer personality which took on the alter-ego of Edison Carter. Max was a bit more flaky than Edison, primarily because he was born from Edison's unconscious mind after a motorcycle accident. Edison had collided with a barricade with the words "Max. Headroom" on it, which was the head's first spoken words. Max also had a tendency to stutter.

But, I digress. If I had walked up to an ATM machine featuring Max Headroom, I would have been happy to see the reincarnation of one of my favorite television shows and took the events which followed all in stride. What I saw was even more bizarre the face of Max Headroom. The "faces" were faces of living people who sat in another room e.g. remote bank tellers in front of video cameras. I told the lady at the Information Booth that this was all a bit "weird" as I entered the room of machines, some of which had "faces on them."

I weighed my options. Unfortunately, the washing machine device swallowed all my money. All I had to show for it was a slip of a paper with some numbers on it. There was no going back. There was about six machines on the left, one was occupied and the person was chatting on the phone with the "face." On the back wall were another six machines, one or two had faces on them. I walked up a friendly-looking female face and explained my situation.

I held up my coin receipt for the face, then took half a step back and held it up for the camera above the face. She nodded and asked me to put the slip into the vacuum canister on the left. It was your typical drive-through window canister... but, this was inside the bank instead of outside. I filled the canister, closed it, put it back into the chamber, and pressed the "send" button. With a little "whooosh" the canister vanished upward into the tube while a Plexiglas door peacefully glided down in front of the now empty compartment.

The face spoke in a polite voice and asked me to provide a driver's license. She sent the tube back and I filled it with my license. Again, I pressed the "send" button. The chamber once again went "whooosh" and the Plexiglas door peacefully glided down in front of the empty compartment once again.

Again, the face spoke and asked me for my account number. I have my six digit account number memorized from the hundreds of times I use it to access my on-line banking. I smiled when I realized that my mind was completely numb at this point from the bizarre sequence of events which brought me to this wall of talking ATM machines. The only thing I could remember about my account number was that it has a "2" and a "6" in it, but I couldn't remember in which order. I found something in my wallet with my account number on it and read the information to the face. Even after reading my own account number, I was so wigged out that my own number didn't seem at all familiar to me.

Again, the face gave me more instructions. I needed to sign a piece of paper which said that I wanted cash. I began to feel irritation at this point. Why did I need to provide identification, my account number, and sign a piece of paper? I had just given the washing machine all my cash and I was just carrying a slip of paper from the washing machine to the face machine. All I wanted was my own cash back, but in the form of paper bills so it would be easier to carry. With no other options before me, I signed the paper with the pen provided and put the paper and the pen back into the tube. I pressed the "send" button. Once again, the chamber went "whoosh" as the Plexiglass door peacefully glided down in front of the empty chamber once again.

The face spoke one more time, "You're all set." The tube reappeared in the chamber and the door glided open. Inside was my license, a copy of the paper which I had signed, an envelope full of bills and a few coins, plus a free pen for my troubles. I removed the contents, closed the tube, placed the tube back into the chamber, but did not press the "send" button this time. I stepped aside in front of a vacant, faceless machine as I composed myself, put the cash into my wallet and my license back into its compartment. My nerves were completely shot and I spilled the small change onto the floor. After I gathered my stuff, picked up the few remaining coins, and put my free pen into my shirt pocket, I walked back outside into the real world once again, happy to see the sun.

I will no longer complain about Commerce Bank and about the person standing over me, watching me count my change.

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