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Cashing out: Banking industry adapting to new realities

February 1, 2018

By Mike Irwin | The Wenatchee World

The new banking: An intersection of the physical and digital

Signs posted at Wenatchee Valley College’s cashier stations provide clear instructions on “How to Write A Check.”

Date, recipient, dollar amount, signature — seems simple, right? But the know-how to dash off a check has virtually disappeared from campus as smartphone banking, along with the ubiquitous debit and credit cards favored by students, has eroded the traditions of on-paper and in-person banking.

Oh, we still get plenty of checks,” said cashier Maggie Fletcher. “But they’re from parents and grandparents who have handled checks their whole lives. For students under age 25 or so, a paper check is ancient history.”

Quickly evolving technology and customer preferences shifting towards a cashless, checkless society have transformed the financial lives of millions of Americans and thousands of companies in recent years. Even in smaller cities and towns, where the bulk of banking has traditionally been conducted face-to-face, tech advances have made dramatic inroads into how hometown branches of banks and credit unions serve their customers.

In the Wenatchee Valley, longstanding financial institutions are shifting priorities as customers discover, adopt and demand the latest whiz-bang services.

The challenge right now in the banking industry is finding the ideal means of providing exceptional tech solutions while at the same time maintaining excellent face-to-face banking in local branches,” said Ken McLain, Washington Federal’s division manager for Central Washington.

Research is telling us that while many clients use the local branch less frequently, they still desire the same traditional service when they do visit,” said McLain. Less traffic at brick-and-mortar branches has led many institutions “to look at ‘right-sizing’ their branch footprint to accommodate our client’s needs.”

At least three companies — Peoples Bank, Washington Federal and credit union GESA — have or will soon consolidate branches. New construction and remodels at many banks and credit unions sport designs, say execs, that provide comfort (cushy sofas, free coffee) and tech availability (WiFi and free use of laptops and tablets). Wide-screen monitors touting new digital services (instant account balances, check deposits by phone) are part of the decor.

We adapt to our customers’ needs,” said Branch Manager Jeremy French of Peoples Bank in Wenatchee. “With everyone busier, everyone carrying a smartphone, it makes sense to turn to technology for certain banking tasks while redesigning our branches to be more welcoming, more comfortable for folks who require a physical location.”

In 2013, Peoples moved from its downtown Wenatchee location to an utterly transformed former car dealership at the corner of North Mission and Ninth streets, one of the busiest junctions in the city. The branch design was one of the first in the region to do away with a row of tellers behind a counter in favor of open desks and easy chairs. In the lobby, a diorama illustrating the parallel histories of Peoples Bank and Wenatchee stretches above the free-coffee station. Outside, there’s parking galore. Read more...