Avoiding a Smartphone Surprise

By Hoa Nguyen

A customer walks into a branch to make a routine transaction. When he steps up to the counter, his cell phone is in his hand—not because he was checking out his Instagram while in line, but because he’s pressed “record” and is videotaping his interaction with the teller.

Viral videos of customer interactions gone wrong have stirred controversy nationwide, whether it was a passenger being physically dragged from a United Airlines flight or an arrest of two men at a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia. Will banks be next?

First United Bank of Madisonville, Ky., had never seen a customer using a cell phone to video an interaction with bank staff. In February of this year, that changed. “This is a first for us, and it definitely caught our employee by surprise,” says Jayne Myers Hundley, SVP for marketing and public relations. Then it happened again a few weeks later.

So how do banks respond when customers use their phones to videotape or take photos of teller interactions? Pictures and videos are considered normal in many circumstances. With the population becoming more and more tech-savvy, banks are facing a variety of unprecedented risks when customers’ use of mobile devices involves capturing banks’ employees and other clients.

First, banks need to make sure no one accidentally catches people on their cameras and compromises their privacy. After that, communicating any policy as well as the security and privacy reasons for it becomes the next challenge.

Candid camera

Perhaps because of the rapid development of photo technology and the numerous departments within the bank that are affected, from operations and security to human resources and marketing, there has not been any industry-wide policy adopted regarding how customers may use their personal devices in the branch, says Heather Wyson-Constantine, VP for bank security policy at ABA.

To get a sense of how banks are addressing this issue, the American Bankers Association Bank Security Committee conducted a survey of its members last fall to determine whether banks have a policy prohibiting customers from recording in-person interactions with branch staff. “The majority of respondents reported they did not have such a policy,” says Wyson-Constantine. Meanwhile, a small share “indicated that they do have a policy in which they do not allow customers to take photos or videos inside their branches and facilities because of the potential for disclosure of sensitive information.”

For United Bank and Capital Trust in Frankfort, Ky., this problem had never come up until its chief marketing officer, Janelda Mitchell, saw a discussion thread on the topic on ABA Bank Marketing Network. Mitchell took the conversation back to her bank staff and found out that, indeed, this issue touches several areas within the bank.

From a customer service perspective, a retail manager who prefers to remain unnamed says that it is tricky business nowadays when people pull out their cell phones and begin filming incidents that are of no concern to them. Even with “No Video Recording” or “No Photos Allowed” signs posted, it doesn’t guarantee that such incident would never happen. “This scares me a bit as I have witnessed many angry customers over the years,” she says. “Social media is so filled with voyeuristic drama that I can imagine one of our interactions being captured by a third party and then posted. It violates everyone’s privacy for certain.”

Policies in place

A risk management officer at United Bank and Capital Trust, on the other hand, views this matter from a security standpoint. “We don’t allow anyone to take photos in our branches for security reasons,” she says. “I would argue this would include video as well.” Her bank’s risk office is in the process of updating its physical security policy to make sure an action plan is in place for when the issue arises. In particular, they will specify the language bank staff can use to alert customers that it is against bank policy to take pictures or video.

As much as it is about managing a reputation risk for the bank itself, according to Mitchell, such a policy is designed to mitigate security risks for branch customers. There are, however, a few circumstances when customers are welcome to take photos and videos in the branch, says Mitchell. These two exceptions include “marketing activities directed and approved by the marketing director” and “security activities directed and approved by the chief security officer.”

After the policy was written, United Bank had retail branch employees trained on it. The communications team sends out newsletters with information about the policy to all employees, given that this issue affects many parts of the bank.

At First United Bank, in a matter of weeks after the second video incident, the bank decided to post signs on the doors prohibiting the use of cameras or video equipment. Under the policy, only authorized photography is permitted at any time on the premises, and even authorized photos need the permission of the subject before they’re distributed publicly.

In addition, the bank held a training session with employees on the steps to take if they see someone using a camera on bank premises. “We supplied talking points and made sure they understood they have the right to confront if they are being photographed or videoed,” says Hundley.

In the long run, banks could avoid unsolicited on-the-record scenarios by training employees to remain professional and respectful at all times, whether the customer has a camera or not. “I do believe that professionalism and polite discourse should be the norm. Not reacting negatively but explaining properly can defuse any situation,” said Mitchell of United Bank.

No Photos, Please!

A sample procedure frontline bank staff can follow to politely address customers who are taking unauthorized photos or video on bank property without permission.

1. When addressing a customer who is taking photos or video with out permission, please smile and be polite. Explain that due to security and confidentiality reasons, unauthorized photography of any kind is not permitted on bank property and ask them to kindly put their phone/camera away.

2. If they refuse, refer to them to signs posted on the doors stating that photography of any kind is prohibited on the premise. If they persist, let them know that this is not public property, it is private property and we have the right to ask them to stop taking photos and/or video.

3. If they continue to refuse, contact a manager. If you are handling a transaction for them, discontinue the service until the issue is resolved.

Hoa Nguyen, a journalist in Washington, D.C., reported this article as an ABA summer intern.