2017-01-18 / Business News

Bank on changes

Some local banks cutting and changing their services

Bank of America is closing many drive-up teller windows as online banking grows, but local community banks have found their customers expect the best of both worlds, in person and on their phones. Bank of America is closing many drive-up teller windows as online banking grows, but local community banks have found their customers expect the best of both worlds, in person and on their phones. We go to bed and wake up with them, travel almost everywhere with them, talk to them when we’re confused or lost, ask their advice on where to go for dinner, and rely on them to keep us occupied at a bar or while waiting in line at the bank.

That is, if we wait in lines at banks anymore at all. From national companies such as Bank of America to local community banks, all are reacting to consumer preference shifting toward an online world.

“Our customers, of all ages, not just Millennials, really have embraced mobile banking,” said Robbie Roepstorff, president of Edison National Bank in Lee County.

Since Americans have come to rely on mobile devices after the iPhone was introduced in 2007, everyday retail banking continues to be a fast-growing niche. Customers are migrating away from in-person services such as drive-up tellers in favor of technology such as mobile check deposit, one of the most popular and fastest growing services provided by banks.

ESPOSITO ESPOSITO That enables people to take a picture of a check on their phone and use their bank’s mobile app to deposit it from wherever they happen to be.

“I would say right now probably the hottest thing is the mobile deposit,” said Aliette Pettay, senior vice president of retail banking for First Florida Integrity Bank.

“We just introduced it about a year ago and that took off like wildfire,” said Alyson Burch, vice president and Punta Gorda branch manager with Charlotte State Bank & Trust.

A national Bank of America survey found that 62 percent of respondents in 2016 used digital as their primary method of banking, up 11 percent from the year before. As the gap widens, Bank of America continues to selectively close drive-up windows nationwide, including across South Florida in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Palm Beach counties.

“Some are being consolidated to other centers,” said Michael Esposito, a regional sales executive for Bank of America’s retail banking services. So if a drive-up you relied on is closed there should be one available within a short drive.

Bank of America’s customers deposited 26 million checks using their mobile banking app in the third quarter of 2016, accounting for 18 percent of all deposits, and paid 25 million bills, up 30 per- cent from the year before. Customers are more often utilizing branch buildings for face-to-face advice about major financial decisions, Mr. Esposito said.

“When they’re making those big life decisions, purchasing a home or planning for retirement or savings, they still want to speak to somebody.”

Smaller community banks like Edison, which emphasize personal service, said they have no plans to scale back drive-through or other services at brick-and-mortar locations.

“I expect you would typically see that more from the larger banks,” Ms. Roepstorff said. “I’d be very surprised to see that from a true community bank.”

Charlotte State Bank & Trust isn’t planning on closing any drive-up windows.

“In fact, we’ve gotten a lot of business because of Bank of America doing that,” said branch manager Ms. Burch.

At the same time, local banks compete with the big financial institutions in keeping up with the technology that customers more often expect.

“It’s an immediate gratification society we live in and our technology has to provide that because if we don’t provide that to someone, they’re going to find another bank that does,” said Bill Turner, vice president of branch administration for Encore Bank.

He has found that people who are roughly 50 and older more often want to come in to a branch location or deal with someone in person.

“That’s kind of how they were brought up, that’s how they were first exposed to banking when they were young,” he said. Younger customers, meanwhile, “are trending more toward the online services.”

Many retired part-time Florida residents also use online services to keep up with their accounts when they go north for the summer.

“I think the majority of our customers enjoy knowing they can come in and see us anytime or they can pick up the phone anytime and talk to a real live person,” said Ms. Burch. “At the same time they like knowing when they want to use technology, they can.”

With increasing online services, banks are also investing in more security measures. One of the most popular has been instant alerts that can be texted or emailed, allowing customers to stop fraudulent payments within minutes from their phones.

“They can push a button right there on their phone and it freezes any transaction,” Ms. Roepstorff said.

For business clients, banks are offering security tokens, a separate digital device or an app that generates random, one-time codes to keep deposits safe.

Just as opening accounts, transfers, and check deposits have become standard online procedures for many consumers, bankers say peer-to-peer money transfers pioneered by services such as PayPal will become increasingly common, convenient and secure. Banks are starting to offer more sophisticated peer-to-peer services such as transferring small amounts of money into a friend’s or grandchild’s account from a mobile device.

“I think things like that are getting more and more popular,” Ms. Burch said. “They’re starting to expect that.” ¦

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