Published January 15, 2021
While usually associated with fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, the drive-thru was originally designed for banking. So, when the automobile became widely adopted, financial institutions (FIs) began devising ways to use it to make banking easier and more convenient for their customers.
In 1946, when the Exchange National Bank in Chicago opened the very ﬁrst drive-up teller, it had 10 windows and sliding drawers attached to it, allowing customers to seamlessly cash checks, get account balances and deposit funds without leaving their car.
More than 70 years later, drive-thru services are still a popular option for banking customers in the U.S., but now they have even more transaction convenience and ease with ATMs and Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs). And, with safety concerns during COVID-19, the push toward self-service is more urgent than ever with FIs also putting in place social distancing and hygiene measures—which makes drive-up ATM service attractive to more areas of the world.
Before drive-thru became banking customers’ go-to choice in the U.S., visiting local FIs was often diﬃcult to ﬁt into their daily schedules. Back in the 1950s, a complex structure of bankers, tellers, ﬁnanciers and filing systems made in-branch experiences hectic. And, because banking services were in such demand (with lengthy transactions times) lines sometimes spilled out onto the street.
Take a look at what a typical U.S. branch looked like in the 1950s.
So, the banking complexity meant customers had to take hours out of their day to prepare their ﬁnancial information, travel to the bank, wait in long lines and speak with an individual teller. And, customers with simple transactions (such as cashing a check) were ushered into the same lines as customers who needed help with more complicated transactions, like mortgages or business loans.
Understandably, the old banking system wasn’t sustainable as consumers began demanding faster and more eﬃcient services to ﬁt their higher-paced lifestyles. So, there was a growing urgency for faster, more convenient banking services that reduced headaches and saved time, and thankfully drive-thru service entered the picture.
Today, with ATMs and technology that makes banking online possible, consumers now rarely see the inside of their local branch. Except for more complex services, such as applying for a loan or managing a retirement savings account, customers can complete any transaction from the comfort of their vehicles or their homes. See how Vantage Credit Union increased their transaction volume by 45% on drive-up ATMS, providing their members with excellent service.
The first ATM was installed in 1967 outside a London Barclay’s branch, a device largely credited to British inventor John Sheppard-Baron. While the drive-thru was convenient, thanks to the invention, ATMs provided the simplicity and eﬃciency that customers wanted, while allowing them to make last minute withdrawals whenever they needed. And, with the invention of the PIN number, Scottish inventor James Goodfellow gave the world the modern ATM.
Further advances in software allowed for self-service machines to connect to a vast computerized network, making it possible for individual terminals to communicate with one another and with the institutions that installed them. Eventually, ATMs and self-service machines were expanded to drive-thrus, with the ability to do more than just get cash or make deposits.
Since then, more than 3 million ATMs have popped up around the world, largely replacing tellers with self-service technology that performs the most common and frequent banking transactions. Although the United States remains the largest market, drive-thru ATMs are also popular in countries like Brazil, Canada, Columbia and Saudi Arabia.
With such wide adoption, FIs can provide the kind of fast and eﬃcient service that suits their customers. Dick Parkhouse, a director at Barclays, summed up the beneﬁts:
“It is ideal for anyone having diﬃculty visiting cash machines either because they have children in the car or ﬁnd parking diﬃcult. It is easy to use and very convenient because people can pull in, get their cash and drive oﬀ without leaving the comfort of their vehicle."
As branch traﬃc continues to decline, consumers are still looking for more eﬃcient ways to use banking services. And, with growing concerns about privacy and safety, FIs are upping their use of innovative self-service technology—ITMs.
ITMs are essentially ATM machines with live video chat that allow consumers to connect directly to a teller or other ﬁnancial professional remotely. Through the use of two-way video screens, touch technology, and veriﬁcation software, ITMs give consumers the teller experience without needing to step inside an actual branch.
ITMs were developed in response to the increasing demand for digital self-service with access to live support. Financial institutions wanted to ﬁnd a safe and easy way for their customers to speak to live tellers and increase their hours of operation without burdening in-branch operations.
With ITM tellers, customers get assistance from remote call center locations—or tellers working from their homes—from across the country. Customers simply walk up to (or drive thru) their FIs branch or self-service station, enter their card and credentials, and are then paired with a teller who can access their account. This eases the burden on the local branch, extends operating hours, reduces waiting times and provides customers with the convenience and personalization of in-person banking services.
Consumers can now use a wide variety of devices, wherever and whenever they want, to get access to their finances in a convenient and secure manner. And as technology advancements in veriﬁcation services continues, such as biometrics and geolocation, customers can more safely bank from their homes, vehicles, branches or streets.
From the moment the ﬁrst drive-up teller facility opened in 1946 until now, the banking world has made a lot of advances in convenience. And, to stay competitive, FIs will need to continue to use more innovative, personalized services for their customers to meet their digital-first, self-service demands. That way, their customers can have access to the most innovative, safe and convenient banking services possible.