Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks:


Digital Banking in the Age of COVID-19

CarolinaFireJournal - Bill Carter
Bill Carter
10/16/2020 -

A column devoted to answering your questions on consumer, mortgage, small business and non-profit investments and lending programs to help you navigate the new financial landscape.  Send your questions to [email protected].

Since mid-March most of us have been in some state of lock-down as our country and our communities try to find a way to wrangle this deadly virus to the ground. This has caused many of us to work from home, or to work from company offices, now allowing only a few essential workers to come to work to keep infection transmissions to a minimum. Forced to adapt to a new digital world has been a challenge as we have had to learn conferencing technology such as Zoom, WebEx, Teams and other platforms to communicate and collaborate with fellow workers. 

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My wife and I have endured one another working from home during this time (she’s an angel), but we have had to get use to relying more upon online services for food, medicines, entertainment, clothing etc. to safely secure our health from this highly contagious disease.

We were obtaining a loan during the outbreak from a local financial institution in late March. The virus limited how many people could work at a time, and significantly slowed down the underwriting approval process. When it came time to close on the loan, we were instructed to arrive at the branch wearing our masks and to call our loan officer from our car. When we arrived, there was a table sitting outside with the loan papers and two pens. We made the call and our loan officer came to the front door wearing a mask, a visor, and gloves, and she advised us to sign the documents where they were marked. Once we signed, we had to get back in our car and wait for the loan officer to come outside to review and give us a thumbs up. There were errors that we didn’t catch so some of the loan documents had to be re-signed later and dropped off at the drive through window. The loan was finally funded, and we had accomplished one of our financial goals, but not without wasting a WHOLE lot of our time and energy. Everything has changed in the wake of Covid-19. Especially how we transact our daily business.

Now I’m a creature of habit. I’m set in my ways. I like listening to vinyl records. I like old tube radios from the 40s and tube guitar amplifiers from the 60s. I like dealing directly with people. I like tactile things that I can see and touch. But the old ways are not always the best ways, and most of us are afraid to step out of our comfort zones to make major changes in any aspect of our lives. But most of the time, once we get comfortable with the new routine, we wonder why it took us so long to make the change.

Record Breaking Changes In Record Breaking Time

Digital and mobile banking in various forms have been around for a while, with online resources that make it easier to check account balances, transfer funds, pay bills, apply for and close loans, and more with the convenience of making these transactions at any time from just about anywhere there is cell service.

From January to April, as the grip of Covid-19 tightened, a major bank’s digital business leapt threefold. The bank chairman said that this new era forced a “massive shift in consumer behavior.’’ The speed of the bank’s digital innovation programs, without the onset of the coronavirus, “might have taken 10 years, and we just did it in two months.’’

We are witnessing banking being reinvented in real time and acting now couldn’t be more important for all financial institutions. Pre-Covid-19 saw an annual percentage of online digital business increase from 25 percent in January to an astounding 75 percent by April of this year.

The COVID-19 outbreak, which has presented bank customers with unprecedented exposure to online and mobile banking capabilities, has resulted in an extraordinary untethering of physical dependencies that otherwise would have taken years to complete.

In the past many institutions looked at digitization to reduce costs and offer more competitive rates. Now they are racing to implement more digital services to enable better customer experiences as well as more efficiency in their operations.

Are you a good candidate for digital and mobile banking? Let’s look at some of the features and benefits of digital banking along with some limitations that might not make it suitable for your banking needs.

Advantages Of Online Banking

Fast Transactions

As already mentioned before, most online systems process real-time, which means your transactions ill be completed immediately.

You do not have to wait in a long line or race across town to make a deposit. And in an age of non-stop busyness in our lives, time and energy are in short supply.

 Anything that needs to be done can be done quickly and easily. For instance, let’s say the day’s agenda is to pay bills, deposit checks and transfer cash. Without online systems, these tasks may take you more than three to four hours. With online banking, the same tasks could require just a few minutes.

Superior Convenience

This is one of the most obvious and best advantages of digital banking. There is no location constraint such as a physical bank structure. Your bank is any internet capable device, available right where you need it, when you need it — yes, in your hands.

With traditional banks, you most likely have gone through the stress of “Oh, it’s a Sunday, I cannot go to the bank” or “It’s past six in the evening, the bank has probably closed for the day” more than once. I know I have, sometimes missing making a deposit or loan payment that I really needed to make.

With online banking, you will never miss a deadline for a transaction, since your account is available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

Online banking is available to use on your cell phone and tablets, as well as your laptop or desktop, making it even more convenient and easier to access.

And, since the operational overhead for digital banking is less than a brick and mortar institution, you may find your online bank paying higher rates on deposits and charging lower rates on loans.

ATMs

Most all digital banks either have their own ATM network or are linked to a nationwide ATM network. So, obtaining cash should never be a problem if you need it.

Online Features

Though traditional banks also offer many features, the frequency and variety are considerably greater with online services. You are easily updated in real-time with the latest offers for different types of loans, credit cards, investments and deposit promotions.

Many online services offer different types of certificates of deposit (CDs), money market savings accounts, mortgages, financial planning tools and other investment platforms.

Most online financial institutions only require a minimal deposit for you to open your account so you can get started quickly.

Security

Online accounts are always protected with special encryption software.

As daily transactions involve the handling of millions of dollars, the designers of the banking software make sure that complete protection is given to the system.

Passwords are protected by virtual keyboard, digital signatures may be involved, and periodic notifications are added, these are just a few of many protection mechanisms.

As a customer, you should ensure that the bank’s website has a valid security certificate signifying that the institution is insured by the FDIC or the NCUA.

Potential Disadvantages of Online Banking

Location

While freedom from a branch location is a positive benefit when you need quick access to your account, it is problematic when you need a physical structure and bank representative to resolve your inquires.

Most online banking services have an FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions section as well as sufficiently long brochures to explain everything; yet, the absence of being able to go to a building and conduct a transaction is sorely missed in the case of certain transactions.

With banks that have no physical location, you miss the benefit of having human interaction with the employees. But this human interaction has already been severely limited by social distancing due to Covid-19. I would make sure that the bank that you choose has an online “chat” option so that you can ask a real person any questions that you might have, or better yet, a Call Center where you can actually talk with a bank  representative to resolve any issues that you might encounter.

Cash Transactions

Now this is where you will need to make some compromises if you move to digital banking. You cannot deposit cash in a computer. If you have a need to handle cash daily, you would need to either keep another account at a brick and mortar institution or obtain a money order. Once converted to a money order you can make a deposit to your account by using the online banks Remote Deposit Capture app on your phone and deposit it by taking a picture of the money order. If you are like me and rarely carry cash, this would not be an obstacle. If you do keep a local account to use for cash deposits you can link that account to any deposit account at your digital institution and move funds to take advantage of the online banks higher deposit rates.

Security

While online bank accounts are extremely well protected, this security will never be 100 percent secure and they are always possibly vulnerable to fraud, despite excellent security and firewall protections. (The Department of Defense has even been hacked!) Online hackers are always trying to infiltrate systems worldwide, but online banks are working 24/7 and spending billions of dollars on encryption software to try and stay one step ahead of them. Unfortunately, in our digital lives this a continuous challenge that even brick and mortar institutions must face daily.

I hope this quick overview has given you some ideas of why digital banking is gaining so much popularity. Personal safety from the COVID-19 virus and convenience head up the list.

Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

I’m not sure if you can teach an old dog new tricks. However, I’ll let you know after I order dinner through Grub-Hub, dial in Netflix, buy a record on eBay, pay for it though PayPal, search Amazon for guitar strings, facetime my kids, and check my accounts online. If you use any of these online services, then digital banking is not so much of a stretch after all. Bow-Wow 😊

Bill Carter is Director of Fire/EMS Business Development for Civic Federal Credit Union in Raleigh. He has been in the financial services industry for 41 years and serves on the Advisory Board of the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation. You can send your questions to him at: [email protected].

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