Banking & Finance

Customers Still Like Their Own Key to Vault

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At most banks, the process is no different than it ever was. Those who store their valuables in a safe deposit box sign in and show identification. A bank employee escorts them to a vault where he uses a guard key and the customer’s key to open the box, then leaves the customer to look through the items privately in a separate room.

Neither accessing safe deposit boxes nor their popularity has changed much through the years.

“It’s a pretty consistent usage that we’ve had,” says Ryan Pastore, vice president for client and community relations at PNC Bank.

“The use is pretty steady in our branches although it is a bit of a generational thing,” observes Zahid Afzal, Home Savings Bank’s chief operating officer.

Renting safe deposit boxes to store valuables in is a long-standing service of financial institutions. Among the recommended items to store are important paperwork – such as passports, birth certificates, legal documents and Social Security cards – family heirlooms and jewelry. Items that are warned against include narcotics, alcohol, guns and explosives.

When a customer signs up to rent a box, typically he is given two keys. Only those with a key, as well as their name and driver’s license on file at the bank, can access the box.

Cortland Bank has 13 branches, 11 of which offer the safe deposit box service. At its main branch, 524 out of 1,700 boxes are in use, says Nancy Floravit, branch sales and service leader of the bank’s main branch in Cortland.

The boxes at Cortland Bank range from 2½ inches by 5 inches up to 10 by 10. All are 21 inches deep. Similar sizes are offered at the other banks as well. The price to rent a box at Cortland Bank ranges from $21 to $100 per year.

At 7 17 Credit Union’s Larchmont branch, 658 out of 689 boxes are in use and there’s a waiting list to use the 10-by-10 boxes, says Joseph Naples, member services manager. Since the contents of each box is known only to the renter, what the customers store inside the boxes is a mystery to bank employees.

“I can assume it’s important documents in the smaller ones, but sometimes the bigger boxes tend to be heavier and I don’t know what’s in there,” he says. “You get a little curious when you carry the 40-pound box of tin out to the member.”

And since the employees don’t know what’s inside each box, the items are not insured by the financial institution. “We’re not supposed to know what’s inside the box so how can we insure?” Naples says. He recommends members buy insurance for the items themselves if it’s needed.

The number of times a member frequents his box varies from person to person. “People can go years without touching it,” Naples says. “Other times there are people who go religiously once a month.”

At Home Savings Bank, 87% of customers with a safe deposit box are over the age of 45 and 94% own their home, reports Afzal. Two reasons for the generational divide are because younger people use more digital technology and they’re more likely to have a safe in their home, he says.

“Home safes are fine but they can also melt down in a fire and somebody can take that thing and run away with it,” he says.

The safe deposit boxes at the bank require two keys to open it – the renter’s key and the bank’s guard key – and the safe itself is kept inside the vault, which is secured behind a steel door and wall.

“The whole branch can burn down but the safe will still be there,” Afzal says. “Even if someone came to rob the bank, that’s an area they can’t get to.”

PNC Bank has its safe deposit boxes inside its vault as well, but some of its branches are starting to offer self-service boxes for greater convenience.

“Those are typically in the lobby of our branches and the customer can go in by themselves, use their key and open their box without having someone from the branch team help them,” Pastore says.

“I certainly don’t see them fading out,” Pastore says. “We see a variety of individuals of all different ages using them. It’s people who are comfortable and have a need for the service.”

Pictured: Joseph Naples, member services manager at 7 17 Credit Union’s Larchmont branch.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.