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SANDY -- A Utah inventor may be on the verge of revolutionizing the way banks deal with customers. He was just awarded a patent for a system that's already bringing tellers face-to-face with depositors, even though they could be hundreds of miles apart.

Banks used to be notorious for so-called "bankers hours" 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It worked for them; for us, not so much. Maybe that's why they invented ATM's. But now a Utah inventor has taken things a big step beyond ATM's to help banks stay open 24 hours a day.

Gene Pranger's shop in Sandy is where the machines are assembled. They're currently in use at about a dozen banks and credit unions east of the Mississippi.

It's a lot like an ATM, except there's a real, live teller, somewhere. The teller could be almost anywhere. In our demonstration he was in a cubicle, communicating with Pranger by a TV and internet connection. It combines the advantages of an ATM, a drive-up window, internet banking and teleconferencing.

The teller can view your ID and pass judgment on your signature electronically.

"This can handle a multitude of teller transactions, what we say, 96 percent of all teller transactions can occur on this machine," Pranger said.

Unlike an ATM, it's personal.

"People know it's a live person on the other end. And they have the same conversations that they have with tellers, if they were standing live, face to face," Pranger explained.

For banks, the advantage is tellers can be in a call center or even work from home, serving dozens of bank branches remotely. A New York credit union found it's now cost-effective to have a teller on duty, even in the middle of the night.

"We have the first financial institution, worldwide, that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Pranger said.

Some people are nervous walking up to a regular ATM because they're afraid there might be a bad guy lurking somewhere. But with this machine, if somebody comes up behind you, the teller can see them and, if necessary, call the police.

"Customers seem to enjoy the experience. And they have the same conversations that they have with tellers if they were standing, live, face to face with them," Pranger said.

Currently, about 100 of the machines are in use in the east, none so far in Utah. Now that he has a patent, Pranger hopes the invention will take off as banks and credit unions climb out of the recession.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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