- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - When almost everything can be purchased without ever stepping foot in a store, Dave Denzer still relies on his kids to buy things like tickets online.

And the Depot Barber Shop partner still does all his banking in person.

“I don’t do any online banking. I’m 74 years old,” Denzer said. “It’s just handy for me on the way home.”

Denzer is in the minority of people who still prefer to bank at their local branch. According to a recent American Bankers Association survey, only 14 percent of Americans prefer to do their banking business the old-fashioned way - in person. That’s the third-most popular option, behind online banking (55 percent) and mobile banking (18 percent).

Nearly every bank - big and small, independent ones and those that are part of national chains - now offers internet banking along with mobile apps, many of which allow customers to make deposits by snapping smartphone photos of checks.

Richard O’Neill, regional president of Prospect Bank, says his own daughter still banks with Chase, where he used to work, and remotely deposits her checks with a photo.

“Before, it used to be location, location, location,” O’Neill said. “Not anymore. It’s so easy to open up an account anywhere and everywhere.”

Prospect has free snacks and coffee available on-site, and customers are allowed to bring in their dogs, but it doesn’t see as many customers come to its branch as it used to, O’Neill said. In the past week and a half, Prospect’s tellers helped about 50 customers a day.

Banks used to have especially long lines on Friday afternoons when customers cashed their paychecks, but direct deposit has eliminated most of that.

ATMs and now mobile and online banking have further eroded foot traffic.

“I’ve been in banking since 1983, and yes, I’ve seen a dramatic decrease,” Gifford State Bank President Tony McLain said. “However, I’ve always been in small community banks. We just simply saw more foot traffic to begin with. We were a destination spot. When you went up to town, you went to the post office and the bank. That was just something you did.”

While there has been a decrease, McLain said Gifford still sees most of its customers, just less often than it used to.

“The days of having to come more frequently are less now, but we really still see that want of our customer base of that place they can go feel and touch and see,” he said. “There’s a bit of security to that.”

While some industries might be able to move entirely online, McLain believes there will always be a need for physical branches.

“We all have some things we feel comfortable with,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk to their doctor over their phone. People want to see where their money is at.”

The customers who still frequent physical branches tend to be older folks or children and teenagers with their parents or grandparents, he said.

And for more complex tasks, customers may still need to pay a visit.

“Maybe they’re coming in to get in their lockbox, maybe it’s a loan,” McLain said.

And small contractors often still pay their employees with checks, Prospect’s O’Neill said.

PNC Bank has seen significant growth in digital banking in just the past few years. In March 2013, just 20 percent of its customers’ transactions were classified as “non-teller.” Another 37 percent were considered “digital,” meaning that most of their transactions weren’t done at tellers’ stations.

This year, 50 percent of transactions are “non-teller,” and 59 percent of customers are considered “digital.”

This shift has led PNC to close 236 of its 2,600 branches since March 2013, according to PNC’s quarterly earnings.

“We remain a Main Street bank. It’s important for us to get to know our customer,” PNC spokesman Fred Solomon said. “We’ve found that we can do that with a less dense branch network in many cases.”

Gifford State Bank has moved in where larger banks have left, McLain said, with it opening three branches in the past 10 years.

“In these small towns where the much larger banks decided to pull out of, we’ve been able to walk in and fill that gap,” he said.

And not all banks have seeing declining foot traffic. At BankChampaign, President Mark Ballard said he doesn’t believe the numbers have gone down.

“It might be because we’re in a growing position. We grow probably 5 to 10 percent a year,” he said, also citing his bank’s openness as a cause for growth. “One of the things people find appealing, when they walk into our front door, my office is next door.”

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/2ixbQ60

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com

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