Technology to Enhance Branch of Future, Bankers Say

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Even as the number of people who use mobile banking rises, branches will continue to play an important role in how banks serve their customers well into the future, participants in a Business Journal roundtable said Tuesday.

“In many of the communities where we have branches, we might be the only bank in that community,” said Mark Witmer, senior executive vice president of Farmers National Bank. “I can see us having as many branches years down the road. As bigger banks pull out of smaller communities, it leaves a void we can fill.”

Mark Wenick, regional president of Talmer Bank and Trust, noted that while younger customers tend to use mobile and online banking more often than they enter a branch, older customers have always preferred to do things the old-fashioned way.

“The older members of our bank like to come in and interact with the tellers. As long as we have that kind of demographic in the Valley, you’ll see branches as a key part of the system,” he said.

Technology is already playing an ever-increasing role in the day-to-day operations of many banks. The next step, most agreed, was to bring technology to the branches themselves.

“The future of a branch may not lie with three or four tellers, a manager and an assistant manager,” Wenick observed. “The evolution will offer the technologies that our children use now, but guided by specialized folks at the branches to help with the more complex aspects.”

Ted Schmidt, regional president of PNC Bank, added, “Our job is to understand the needs of our customers and adjust the model [of branches].”

Also participating the roundtable discussion were Frank Hierro, regional president of the Mahoning Valley for Home Savings and Loan Co.; William Shivers, Akron/Canton and Mahoning Valley regional president for Huntington Bank; and Dennis Linville, senior vice president of Middlefield Bank.

During the discussion, all six bank executives agreed that the Mahoning Valley economy is improving, but the strength of that growth varied from banker to banker.

Hierro said the economy is “as good today as any time in the last decade,” while Shivers graded the climate as a B.

“It’s doing OK. Businesses are being cautious and they’re not setting records. But they’re still doing well,” Shivers explained.

Security was also a major topic for the bankers. The security of a customer’s financial information has replaced credit risk as the No. 1 concern at many banks.

“We have never had an issue with customer security. Our biggest risk is customers giving out their own information,” Shivers said.

As for banks developing new sources of income or improving fee income, most put relationships with their customers as the best way to boost revenues. If customers feel welcome and trust their bank, they observed, then they will continue to keep returning and turn to it for all of their needs, whether savings, mortgages, small-business loans or increasing their wealth.

“We want to do everything we can and keep them from shopping somewhere else,” Linville said. “If we can offer them everything, they won’t need to go elsewhere.”

Other topics the six bankers discussed included small businesses’ sources of financing, financial education, how they recruit employees and their work with economic development agencies.

The edited transcript of the roundtable will appear in the Mid-July issue of The Business Journal, in subscribers’ mailboxes July 14.

Pictured: Among the six bank executives participating in The Business Journal’s roundtable discussion Tuesday are Mark Wenick, regional president of Talmer Bank and Trust, Ted Schmidt, regional president of PNC Bank, and Frank Hierro, regional president of the Mahoning Valley for Home Savings and Loan Co.

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