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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, July 2, 2012, 5:45 am

Area financial institutions roll out latest tech

Early adopters see growth — new offerings expected

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    North Bay financial institutions are increasingly employing the latest generation of Web and mobile technologies, addressing a wave of consumer demand for conveniences that were once only within reach of large, national banks.

    Early adopters of these technologies, including Santa Rosa’s Summit State Bank and Community First Credit Union, have seen users readily embrace the new, free services, which allow functions like advanced money management and mobile check capture.

    Now, two more Santa Rosa institutions are in the middle of rolling out a number of electronic banking improvements, with Exchange Bank and Redwood Credit Union embarking on phased launches of new Web and mobile platforms in the coming months.

    “The adoption is almost exponential,” said Thomas Duryea, president and CEO of Summit State Bank, of their mobile application.

    While online banking has been a mainstay for community institutions for several years, the newest generation of tools – with mobile-optimized conveniences like instant fund transfers to other accounts – were first developed and heavily marketed under national banks.

    Now, tech providers to the financial industry are developing online banking and mobile platforms that are offered at a scale that is viable to community institutions.

    At Exchange Bank, leaders in the technology effort selected Intuit, the bank’s current technology provider for online banking services. Intuit, also the developer of the Quickbooks accounting software, was in the midst of developing a new mobile and Web platform when Exchange Bank began looking at technology options nine months ago. The bank saw that the planned offerings would integrate smoothly with current systems, said Brad Hunter, senior vice president in charge of electronic banking.

    The new services, with a two-month rollout that began last week, will eventually allow customers to use enhanced financial planning tools, as well as transfer funds instantly to customers both at Exchange Bank and other participating banks. Mobile offerings will also be available for the popular smartphone platforms, and the bank will have additional flexibility to implement rewards programs for activities such as shopping locally. Mobile check capture — allowing check deposit through a cell phone — is also under development, and the various improvements include enhancements to security.

    Yet behind the scenes, Mr. Hunter said that much of the bank’s work has involved the transition to a “real time” electronic banking system. With changes that include a new high-capacity T1 data connection for the bank, transactions will now appear instantly on a customer’s history, eliminating occasional delays with the current system. Those changes took effect last Wednesday, with additional work occurring to streamline online access to popular account functions.

    “If you swipe your card at the gas station, pump your gas, turned around and looked at your account on your phone, you’d see it there,” Mr. Hunter said.

    At Redwood Credit Union, staff expects to release a new online banking and mobile platform later this summer. An overhauled website also went live in June, said Mark Chapman, assistant vice president in marketing and communications.

    The new site features enhanced security and streamlines the user experience, with a particular emphasis on featuring information to educate users about financial concepts and a new “Ask RCU” search function. Produced in collaboration with Austin, Texas-based developer Jwaala, the upcoming mobile and Web banking platforms will provide services such as additional financial planning tools and mobile fund transfers. A remote check capture function is also under development.

    “It’s in response to our members’ requests,” said Mr. Chapman, describing the results of a recent member survey. “Mobile banking has matured.”

    For Summit State Bank, 10 percent of customers have begun utilizing its mobile platform since it launched one year ago, increasing along with the rising popularity of smartphones, Mr. Duryea said. Developed with Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., the platform’s remote check capture function has appealed to many small business clients and overshadowed the remote capture devices that many banks have provided for commercial customers.

     “It’s not only the cost saving part of it, but the convenience and the flexibility,” he said. “In the end, it’s just a better way to serve our customers.”

    The bank currently offers two mobile applications that offer check capture and account functions, with a convergence expected later this year, he said.

    Another early adopter, Community First Credit Union, has pooled resources as part of a “tech consortium” of four other credit unions in order to implement a robust mobile platform. First made available in March of last year, the platform, by Berkeley-based Access Softek, will be updated within the next three months with more sophisticated analytic tools. Check capture functionality is expected by the end of the year, said David Williams, spokesman for the institution.

    The credit union saw an influx of new members in the late part of 2011.

    “There was a certain level of electronic sophistication that they demanded,” he said.

    While electronic banking is playing an increasing role, Mr. Hunter of Exchange Bank said that current data show that customers still prefer an in-person visit for certain needs, including opening new accounts.

    “What the branches are now used for are purchase decisions and advice,” he said. “Customers say, ‘I feel better seeing a building and talking to people, and it makes me feel like my money is more secure.’”

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