By Sarena Barker, SVP Electronic Banking, Plumas Bank
Here’s the moment I knew our bank’s investment in online and mobile banking had made all the difference for our community:
One of our longstanding clients at Plumas Bank, a gentleman who began banking with us not long after the bank was established in 1980, called to enroll in our online banking services because of the pandemic. He’d always visited our offices to do his banking, so he needed a little support learning to navigate the online world. The same team he’d come to know during his years with the bank took a few minutes to walk him through the technology, and he was excited to put his new tools to use – all from the safety of home.
This longtime client wasn’t alone. In 2020, the bank saw the number of online transactions we processed more than double in comparison to the previous year— a 236% increase overall.
Plumas Bank’s clients — consumers and business owners in northern California, the Lake Tahoe region, Carson City and the Reno metropolitan area — clearly are in step with their peers across the nation in their adoption of online banking.
Nationwide, a survey by the Federal Reserve finds that 71 percent of bank customers use online banking services these days — and 43 percent of those who were surveyed are using mobile banking. Another recent survey found about 80 percent of consumers nationwide now prefer online services over a visit to a physical bank location.
The trend appears solidly established and reflects Plumas Bank’s recent experience as well. The shift to online banking services will remain an ongoing and important element of our relationships with our clients even as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
As the pandemic took hold last spring, more clients than ever before accessed online and mobile banking because it provided a measure of safety and convenience for their routine banking needs.
We experienced an increase in online transactions from all age groups and across the entire territory we serve. Clients in small rural towns of northeastern California, the resort communities at Lake Tahoe and the more urban areas of Redding, Carson City, and Reno all increased their use of online services.
Many of them, of course, already were using some of the bank’s online services. Perhaps they were checking their balances from time to time or transferring money from one account to another online.
But with the pandemic, many clients began to conduct a majority of their quick, routine banking online. Personal banking clients shifted to the use of mobile deposits. Businesses that had used remote deposit as an occasional convenience began making all of their deposits remotely. Overall, business banking slightly surpassed personal banking in use of our online technologies and showed a 240% increase in online transactions in 2020.
In another major shift, our clients sharply increased use of their debit cards with the arrival of COVID-19 and a growing number of our clients further linked their debit card to their mobile device, creating a mobile wallet that allows completely touch-free transactions. Clients use our secure mobile wallet service in conjunction with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay to shop in stores, through the Web or through apps. Some of the increase likely reflects the avoidance of handling cash during the early, uncertain days of the pandemic.
A more subtle factor also was at play: Clients who wanted to stay home ordered meals for delivery. They placed online orders for their groceries. They called local stores to order merchandise for curbside pickup. All of these transactions depend on some form of electronic payment, and debit cards were a convenient payment method for many.
The rapid adoption of online banking challenged our call center teams as well. As a community bank, we pride ourself on the individual attention we pays to its clients’ needs. When clients moved quickly to online banking services, many had questions or needed additional support to make a smooth transition. Our client resource center answered thousands of calls. From questions about the Paycheck Protection Program, stimulus funds and other financial concerns, our call center answered 3,000 more calls than average and helped many of those clients make the transition to a variety of online banking tools.
The team worked additional hours to ensure they maintained our high service standards while helping clients learn to use our online tools. I’m proud to say that we never closed our call center during the pandemic. We quickly enacted response plans to physically distance our team members and help others work from home. We aren’t first responders or hospital heroes, but banks are an essential service and we weren’t about to let our clients down.
Despite the rapid growth of online banking services, our lobbies weren’t empty. In fact, the transition of many routine banking needs online allowed us to provide more individualized levels of service in the bank’s physical locations. Businesses and personal banking clients with particularly involved banking needs still wanted and needed to meet with their banking expert. This was possible because we never fully closed our branches. We were able to offer appointments, phone calls and virtual meetings for the clients who needed us – all within local safety guidelines. With fewer clients visiting our branch locations for their regular banking transactions, our teams were able to give even more time to those with complex needs and questions.
Now that a larger portion of our clients have grown accustomed to online banking, they don’t show many signs of returning to their previous practices after the pandemic wanes once that is simply invaluable for today’s consumer.
But even as we provide robust technology, personal relationships and local decision-making always will remain the cornerstone of community banks. For many years, personal and business banking clients alike turned to community-based institutions such as Plumas Bank for assistance and wise counsel on financial matters. Clients choose community banks because they want to be able to speak with a banker they know when they have difficult questions. As online banking adoption grows, we remain committed to those same high levels of client care — in person and online.