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Dave Olson, Published June 22 2013

Mobile banking taking off locally

FARGO – Online banking was a big hit with customers from the start.

They loved being able to sit at their home computer and pay bills with a keystroke, or check account balances with ease.

Today, electronic screens are smaller, but online banking, and its latest incarnation – mobile banking – is bigger than ever, said Bill Russell, executive vice president of retail banking at Bell State Bank & Trust, which is based in Fargo.

“We’ve offered it (mobile banking) now for just a few months, and it’s taken off beyond what we initially expected, by far,” Russell said.

Mobile banking has also taken off at Gate City Bank, said Tavia Smith, vice president and virtual office manager for the Fargo-based bank.

“It’s absolutely big,” said Smith, who offered a summary of mobile banking’s history.

“Online banking was a big deal on your desktop,” she said. “Then people got laptops. Then they moved to tablets, or their phones about the same time.

“Now,” Smith said, “you have a lot of people that no longer have a desktop or a laptop and want to do all their banking on their phone.”

Full service

Early mobile banking involved using a smartphone to visit a bank’s website, Smith said.

“You could type in a URL and you could get to our website, but it was made smaller to fit your mobile device.

“Soon after that, they came out with apps specifically made for a certain device,” she said, adding that mobile applications have made banking on the go much more user-friendly.

With apps, Smith said, customers can use their phone or other devices to:

* Look at an image of a check that has cleared.

* Make transfers between accounts.

* Pay bills.

* View accounts and account histories, including loans a customer may have.

Smith said Gate City is working on making it possible to deposit a check using a cell phone, a service that is catching on across the country.

Depositing a check by smartphone is one of the options offered by Bell State Bank & Trust, and it’s getting a lot of use, Russell said.

“Mobile check deposit is incredibly popular. I use it all the time,” he said.

“All you do once you’re in your mobile app is press a button that says ‘deposits.’ It automatically turns on the camera on your phone and guides you through it,” Russell said.

Both banks offer texting as part of their mobile banking options.

Russell said texting has obvious benefits when it comes to avoiding things like overdrafts.

Customers can have a text sent to them when their account balance reaches a certain number, he said, and if the balance gets too low, it’s a simple thing to transfer funds from one account to another.

‘Face-to-face’

While mobile banking nationally appears to be pulling foot traffic away from brick-and-mortar bank branches, Smith and Russell say the picture is different here.

“People are still looking for the face-to-face (transaction),” Smith said. “I can’t say electronic transactions have taken away from our branch visits at all.”

Russell said teller traffic at Bell State Bank & Trust locations is growing because of the number of new accounts being opened.

“We’re adding a lot of new customers, whereas most banks across the nation have had a challenge,” he said.

“That said,” he added, “our usage of online banking and mobile banking is through the roof.

“Every month it just goes to a higher and higher level. People are really adopting it. They’re enjoying it. They’re finding it convenient.”

And it’s secure, Russell and Smith both said.

“We educate our customers about having it (the mobile device) lock after so many minutes of being left alone. That’s very important,” Smith said.

She said Gate City Bank recently instituted a new feature for mobile banking customers that notifies a customer if someone tries to access accounts from a device the bank doesn’t recognize.

In that situation, a one-time pass code supplied by the bank is necessary to gain access to accounts.

Russell said they haven’t seen security issues with mobile banking.

“It is amazing the security that we have built in, because we have to be perfect,” he said.

He added, however, that it’s always important for customers to remember the basics of online security.

“Never write down your password, never write down your user name where people can get that,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555