MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — MidUSA CU has launched a holographic telepresence system that virtually allows staff to be in two places at once.

The credit union is one of the first financial institutions in the nation to introduce the 3D Omni-Suite developed by Buffalo Pacific and Telepresence Technologies, a virtual transaction unit that projects a holographic image of an individual and allows for two-way communication.

MidUSA deployed the tech in January at its Kettering and Plaza locations to provide members with greater access to its popular licensed investment professional, Tom Henry.

"We used to say that Tom could not be in two places at once. That is no longer true," said CEO Jim Miles.

The technology allows a member to sit and talk face-to-face with a CU employee (see image at right). Miles said that despite the employee not being physically present, the holographic image makes members feel as though they are having a conversation with someone right across the desk.

"The life-size 3D image, the video clarity, the stereo sound and the eye-to-eye contact — it's unbelievably real," shared Miles, who says the technology is the answer to making experienced employees readily accessible to members.

Miles explained that members and non-members often show up at the credit union wanting quick answers to investment questions, so the tech is used daily.

"The technology allows us to effectively leverage our member's time, and our subject matter expert's time," he said.

And while it may seem like the system moves the $198 million CU away from the close personal service members prefer, Miles said the opposite is true. "This technology gives our staff the ability to talk with our members at their convenience. That is personal service."

The 3D transmission is generated from the Omni-Suite "bridge," a unit that captures the employee's image and then delivers it via routine Internet connections with high bandwidth to the branch. The HDTV video is in 720P at 60 frames per second. Little was required in way of technology components aside from the HDTV-based hardware and a high-bandwidth Internet connection, explained Miles.

Miles estimates the entire system at the CU, including the bridge unit to broadcast, cost about $160,000.

"At this point we believe the ROI has the potential to be significant," said Miles, saying the credit union's investment services are reaching more members.

The units also simply make members stop and look. "Each unit is positioned to be readily available and visible," said Miles. "They are magnetic in that they create so much attention."
Kevin Blair, president and CEO at the St. Louis-based NewGround, a design and build firm, said credit unions should carefully consider the expense for the holographic technology.

"It's a great tool," said Blair. "But although it looks great, it probably comes at a premium price now. And, with some of the new high-definition flat-screen TVs, you may get a similar experience — while not a futuristic hologram — for a lot less money."

Miles sees a future for the telepresence units.

"Our next step would be to add more of these units into our other branches, and then integrate our other subject matter experts, such as our mortgage group," he said. "In addition, we are excited about using these units with our technology partner CU*Answers, which is doing some amazing things with this technology. We are able to talk and see each other 'live' without having to travel."

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