By Sarena Barker, Senior Vice President of Electronic Banking Services, Plumas Bank
Here’s the moment I knew our bank’s investment in online and mobile banking had made all the difference to our community:
One of our long-time clients at Plumas Bank, a man who started doing business with us shortly after the bank was established in 1980, called to sign up for our online banking services due to the pandemic. He had always come to our offices to do his banking, so he needed a little help learning how to navigate the online world. The same team he had come to know during his years at the bank took a few minutes to walk him through the technology, and he was excited to put his new tools to work, all from the security of his home.
This longtime customer was not alone. In 2020, the bank saw the number of online transactions processed more than double compared to the previous year, an overall increase of 236%.
Plumas Bank customers – consumers and business owners in Northern California, the Lake Tahoe area, Carson City, and the Reno metro area – are clearly in tune with their peers across the country in their adoption of online banking services.
Nationally, a Federal Reserve survey finds 71% of bank customers use online banking these days – and 43% of those surveyed use mobile banking. Another recent survey found that around 80% of consumers nationwide now prefer online services to a visit to a physical bank.
The trend appears to be firmly established and also reflects the recent experience of Plumas Bank. The shift to online banking will remain an ongoing and important part of our relationships with our customers, even as the COVID-19 pandemic abates.
As the pandemic took hold last spring, more customers than ever accessed online and mobile banking as it provided a measure of security and convenience for their day-to-day banking needs.
We have seen an increase in online transactions from all age groups and across the territory we serve. Customers in small rural towns in northeastern California, the resorts of Lake Tahoe, and the more urban areas of Redding, Carson City and Reno have all increased their use of online services.
Many of them, of course, were already using some of the bank’s online services. Maybe they were checking their balances every now and then or transferring money from one account to another online.
But with the pandemic, many customers have started to do the majority of their quick and routine banking online. Personal banking customers have switched to using mobile deposits. Companies that had used remote filing as an occasional convenience began to make all of their deposits remotely. Overall, business banking slightly outperformed personal banking in the use of our online technologies and posted a 240% increase in online transactions in 2020.
In another major change, our customers have dramatically increased the use of their debit cards with the advent of COVID-19 and an increasing number of our customers have more linked their debit card to their mobile device, creating a mobile wallet. which allows completely contactless transactions. Customers use our secure mobile wallet service in conjunction with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay to shop in-store, on the web, or through apps. Part of the increase likely reflects avoiding handling cash during the uncertain first days of the pandemic.
A more subtle factor was also at play: Customers who wanted to stay at home were ordering meals to be delivered. They placed orders online for their groceries. They called local stores to order goods to pick up at the curb. All of these transactions depend on some form of electronic payment, and debit cards were a convenient form of payment for many.
The rapid adoption of online banking has also challenged our call center teams. As a community bank, we pride ourselves on the individual attention we give to the needs of its customers. When customers quickly transitioned to online banking, many had questions or needed additional assistance to make a smooth transition. Our customer resource center answered thousands of calls. With questions about the Paycheque Protection Program, stimulus funds and other financial issues, our call center answered 3,000 more calls than average and helped many of these customers make the call. transition to a variety of online banking tools.
The team worked overtime to ensure that we maintained our high service standards while also helping clients learn how to use our online tools. I am proud to say that we never closed our call center during the pandemic. We quickly put in place response plans to physically remove our team members and help others work from home. We’re not first responders or hospital heroes, but banks are an essential service and we weren’t about to let our customers down.
Despite the rapid growth of online banking, our lobbies were not empty. In fact, the transition of many day-to-day banking needs to online has allowed us to provide more individualized levels of service in physical bank locations. Businesses and individual customers with particularly affected banking needs wanted and still needed to meet their banking expert. This was possible because we never completely closed our branches. We were able to offer appointments, phone calls and virtual meetings to clients who needed us, all in accordance with local safety guidelines. With fewer customers visiting our branches for their regular banking operations, our teams were able to give even more time to people with complex needs and questions.
Now that more of our customers have become accustomed to online banking, they aren’t showing much signs of returning to their previous practices after the pandemic is over, once this is simply invaluable to the customer. today’s consumer.
But even if we provide robust technology, personal relationships and local decision-making will always remain the lifeblood of community banks. For many years, personal and business banking customers have turned to community institutions such as Plumas Bank for help and advice on financial matters. Customers choose community banks because they want to be able to speak with a banker they know when they have tough questions. As the adoption of online banking services grows, we remain committed to these same high levels of customer service – in person and online.