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Digital banking answers COVID-19 call at smaller organizations

customer experience

Community banks and credit unions, with their grassroots personal service and intimate customer relationships, aren’t necessarily known for having the same technological prowess and seemingly limitless IT budgets of the industry behemoths.

Yet when the coronavirus suddenly shuttered their lobbies, their digital lifelines to customers proved incredibly effective, say four executives from smaller financial services organizations. Rather than being flattened by the virus’s impact, transactions spiked. Mortgages, refinancings, mobile deposits and registrations for digital banking services accelerated sharply.

“We never dreamed of the amount of digital business we would be able to do,” says Todd Nagel, president and CEO of IncredibleBank, a community bank with $1.2 billion in assets and 15 locations in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Despite its rural footprint, IncredibleBank is no babe in the woods when it comes to digital technology. In 2009, the organization – then known as River Valley Bank – established a national digital bank, primarily to serve as a funnel for high-rate deposits. The bank migrated from that model into other niches, but the IncredibleBank name prevailed, and its digital expertise continued to develop.

“Spending a lot of time on the phone with customers has been huge,” Nagel says. “When people are in crisis, they want advice. You need a human relationship beyond the technology.”

NBT, a $10-billion-asset community bank based in Norwich, New York, rapidly and efficiently transitioned to a nearly all-digital operation, says Joseph Stagliano, executive vice president and president of retail community banking.

“We established a very robust technology roadmap seven or eight years ago, with a focus on the customer experience, the employee experience and the digital branch experience,” Stagliano says.

Among the bank’s improvements is a single digital banking platform to deliver a consistent customer experience with greater functionality across mobile and digital channels. “Our penetration rate for online and mobile banking has been excellent,” says Stagliano, who’s also NBT’s CIO. “There are customers who, because of the pandemic, never thought they would be banking via a mobile app or online banking who are now doing it.

Particularly heartening, Stagliano says, is the customer feedback amid the crisis. “Our customer satisfaction results, in both our branches and call centers, are as high as they have ever been.”

Vast Bank’s digital transformation was well under way when the pandemic struck. The family-owned bank based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has $670 million in assets and 11 locations. President and CEO Brad Scrivner says it recently installed a new open-source banking platform, and it provides banking services for fintech Meed Banking Club. The Vast mobile app gives the bank an online footprint covering 48 states.

“Banking is finally being disrupted,” he says. “The new normal is going to look very similar to many other industries that have been disrupted. The customer is going to demand to be more in control. If they desire self-service, then we need to provide that across the full spectrum of financial services products.”

Rivermark Community Credit Union, with $557 million in assets, had the foresight in 2013 to invest in interactive teller machines, says president and CEO Seth Schaefer. The live video kiosks have been key to its ability to serve members during the lockdown. Each of the credit union’s 11 branches in the Portland, Oregon, area typically have three ITMs.

“They have helped accommodate members who are being nimble with their own schedules during the pandemic,” Schaefer says. “We have taken the functionality a little farther than most interactive teller machines. For example, they can print cashier’s checks and issue statements, as well as loan documents.”

Members have been more than satisfied with Rivermark’s pandemic response. “Our net promoter scores have never been higher,” Schaefer says, adding that its members’ response suggests a permanent shift “that could move our shops to a more digital footprint going forward.”

Edmund Lawler has worked as an editor and reporter at Crain Communications, Santa Barbara News-Press, Indianapolis News and The Associated Press. He is currently a regular BAI Banking Strategies contributing writer who lives in New Buffalo, Michigan.

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