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A tenth of NCB banking machines out of commission

About a tenth of National Commercial Bank Jamaica’s automated banking and teller machines are out of commission.

The bank has poured billions into its digitisation programme over the past eight years, to rebalance the demand for in-branch services. But that forward drive has been beset in recent times by customer complaints, mostly about the bank’s ABM network.

Now, NCB says it is reassessing the network to address the problems.

As Jamaica’s top bank with assets of about $1 trillion, NCB has the largest network of banking machines, starting the year with a fleet of 326 machines out of the 900 ATMs in total for all banks on the Multilink network run by collaborative agency JETS Limited.

JETS itself is owned by various financial institutions.

By March, the number of NCB machines had declined to about 300, according to NCB Vice President of Payments and Digital Channels, Danielle Cameron-Duncan. The latest report from JETS was that the number was down even further to 290 for the month of May.

Like other financial institutions, NCB has been hit in recent times by a spate of ATM robberies. Its machines in St Ann’s Bay, Annotto Bay, Darliston and Little London were breached.

In the wake of the robberies, Cameron-Duncan said 25 machines were decommissioned at various locations following risk assessments. However, she said the measure was only temporary, while the bank recalibrates.

“We have been actively seeking to replace some of those machines either by reinforcing the security of some of the locations or, if that’s not possible, by changing to a site that we consider to be more securable,” Cameron-Duncan said.

The entire banking and financial sectors have been moving towards electronic and online means of doing business, amid an even bigger moving nationally towards Jamaica as a digital economy.

NCB said that up to March, only two per cent of all transactions by customers were done in-branch, while the other 98 per cent were through digital channels.

ABMs accounted for 52 per cent; mobile channels 25 per cent; and online, 21 per cent.

“We’ve had some issues recently from a security perspective which resulted in a number of ABMs being damaged some being stolen and we did a security risk assessment and we had to make some changes,” NCB CEO Septimus ‘Bob’ Blake acknowledged in an interview.

However, he said the bank was firm in its commitment to continue investing in its digital programme and determined to win the race as an integrated services provider offering products in banking, insurance and wealth management on one platform.

Blake says NCB spends in excess of $10 billion annually on technology, encompassing operations and capital projects. He also says NCB can win the race as an integrated services provider offering products in banking, insurance and wealth management on one platform while driving end-to-end efficiency through digitisation.

“Digital is going to be the fulcrum on which we acquire customers and on-board customers. It will underpin how our customers transact with us, how they’re serviced and even how we originate sales,” he said.

The effective lifespan of an ATM, according to Cameron-Duncan, is about 10 years. NCB has done upgrades to 70 machines so far this year, she added, and intends to do 100 more in the coming year.

Cameron-Duncan says NCB is aware of the glitches and forced downtime at some locations but is attempting to address the shortcomings through replacements.

The bank has also started to put new ABMs into operation that can handle the new polymer banknotes that the central bank is now rolling out.

The bank announced last week that 43 of its machines would be able to facilitate the new bills, while iABMs at another 12 locations will be able to facilitate deposits of the banknotes.

The payments VP said that with the replacement and upgrading programme, along with the addition of new machines, NCB’s ABM network should be back to 325 machines by year end.

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