North Bay banks beef up online presence to attract, keep customers

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Digital banking is no longer an afterthought.

Banks now have to compete against each other plus outside software developers on who can provide the best banking services on customer desktops or in the palm of their hands. One of those outside software companies is called Emma.

Co-founded by CEO Edoardo Moreni, the United Kingdom-based app became available in the U.S. and Canada last month. The app allows consumers to track spending and subscriptions while setting budgeting and savings goals on their mobile devices.

“Our main realization is that the role of the bank is to provide financial products,” Moreni said, adding his app is intended to help users look after their financial health.

Partly in response to software like Emma, North Bay institutions are increasingly expanding and updating their offerings as an essential part of their customer service.

Novato-based Bank of Marin rolled out a new digital banking platform in June even while it announced it would close its downtown Petaluma branch as of Aug. 9, underscoring the primacy of a digital presence and the changing place of brick-and-mortar locations at the bank.

More customers are using the bank’s digital capabilities as opposed to coming into branches.Russell Colombo, Bank of Marin

During a previous call to discuss quarterly results, Bank of Marin President and CEO Russell Colombo said its two other Petaluma locations are sufficient for that market and underscored it didn’t mean his bank was shifting focus.

“The reality is activity in branches has changed over the years,” Colombo said during that call. He added that more customers are using the bank’s digital capabilities as opposed to coming into branches.

“We don’t really need that many locations to serve that customer base because of technology changing the way people bank,” Colombo said of the closure.

Bank of Marin’s new platform allows for instant, person-to-person transfers of funds between most financial institutions, according to an email from Director of Marketing Andrea Henderson.

The platform’s Money Manager function allows consumers to link their Bank of Marin account with other financial service providers like banks, and credit card and brokerage companies.

“This allows our customers the ability to have a one-stop-shop for viewing balances and transactions across their various accounts,” Henderson wrote.

We had members who were asking for more effective ways of banking with us.Tony Hildesheim, Redwood Credit Union

Person-to-person transfers are also a component of Redwood Credit Union’s online and mobile platforms. The function is instant between credit union members and takes about one day when transferring money to non-members according to Tony Hildesheim, Redwood’s chief information officer.

“We had members who were asking for more effective ways of banking with us,” Hildesheim said. He added the bank’s online and mobile platforms are intended to integrate seamlessly, so that, “anything you can do at the branch you can do in mobile and online.”

Account linking also appears to be a core offering for many financial institutions. Hildesheim said customers can download data from outside accounts into their app, but said third party services are a good alternative for doing that as it can become cluttered.

He added the technology does allow for categorization of spending and budget creation but that so far “We’re not seeing a lot of people use that as much.”

Fraud protection and security also enter the conversation when money goes digital.

Hildesheim said his company’s technology allow customers to turn cards on and off and set smart phone alerts so they know when a card has been used, among other functions.

He also noted the credit union launched a Spanish-language mobile app last year. He said Redwood Credit Union has no plans to close branches.

Online banking is not just for consumers either.

A new business-focused online function will allow those customers to control who has access to an account as well as track where transactions happen and who is executing them.Tony DeMattei, Exchange Bank

Just ask Santa-Rosa based Exchange Bank, which will launch a new digital business banking platform in September, according to Craig Bainbridge, the bank’s senior vice president, product innovation and delivery manager.

The bank’s business-focused online function will allow those customers to control who has access to an account as well as track where transactions happen and who is executing them, according to Tony DeMattei, vice president, digital channels product manager.

“That way, they can feel more secure and have more control over how their transactions are being managed,” he added. He noted the accounts would come with fraud monitoring and that, after a few months, Exchange Bank planned to implement proactive measures to stop potentially fraudulent transactions. DeMattei said those functions would include login monitoring of user behavior and real time monitoring to identify suspicious transactions.

Bainbridge said the bank finished converting its consumer-focused digital offerings last month. Like Redwood, he said Exchange Bank did not have current plans to close any branches.

DeMattei noted the consumer features also included a person-to-person payment function and said users can also link external accounts and view them within Exchange Bank’s platform.

Ease of use is also key, DeMattei said.

“Banks tend to be known to have a stodgy look and feel and functionality,” he said. “We looked to make sure that (the online function) is something that is modern, and it shows that we have taken a lot of time and investment to care about that user experience.”

In a press release announcing its second-quarter earnings, Exchange Bank said it recognized approximately ($500,000) of expenses during the six-month period ending June 30, "relating to the implementation of a new online and mobile banking platform.”

DeMattei noted that while in the past the bank had separate platforms for consumer and business banking, “Now we’ll have one platform for all of our customers.”

Bainbridge said the bank can use a continually improving customer experience as a way to differentiate itself in the market. “We can definitely use it as a competitive differentiator,” he said.

“We’re finding more and more as businesses are making decisions on who to bank with they are asking questions and wanting to see what the platform you offer is like,” DeMattei said. “That is definitely becoming part of the decision process.”

Staff Writer Chase DiFeliciantonio covers technology, banking, law, accounting, and the cannabis industry. Reach him at chase.d@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4257.

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