After sweeping the sidewalk, the first job G. Henry Cook had more than four decades ago at his family-owned Somerset Trust Co. in Somerset, Pennsylvania, was putting checks in alphabetical order. This was the “most mindless, frustrating and stupid job I have ever done in my life,’’ he says. “That week was when I developed a commitment to figure out how technology can make banks smarter, so we can free up our people to really take care of customers.”
Today, Cook is president, chairman and CEO of Somerset Trust Co., which is on the leading edge of community banks in terms of mobile technology. At roughly $1 billion in assets, the bank has a mobile app that allows customers to log in with a fingerprint instead of a password, turn on and off their debit cards using the app and pay their bills with their smartphone camera. Soon, the bank will make it possible for new customers to open an account using the mobile app, instead of signing up through online banking or walking into a branch. The first step is to roll out the mobile platform inside a couple of branches, so bank staff can quickly enroll new customers using an iPad. In the first quarter, the bank hopes to make mobile account opening available to customers using their own devices anywhere, says Chief Operating Officer John Gill.
Mobile account opening is so new, it’s hard to find statistics on it. Almost all the banks that allow it are larger than $50 billion in assets. But it’s increasingly talked about as an avenue to generate new customers and accounts in an age when consumers increasingly rely on their smartphones for everything.
“Most community institutions do not really have a good strategy for account opening on the phone,’’ says Jim Burson, senior director at Cornerstone Advisors, a consulting firm in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Most people have the basic functional [items such as], ‘I can make a payment, I can check my account balance.’ But the big gap that needs to be closed is the account origination and loan origination piece of mobile.”
Gill says the bank simplified a lot of its own front-end and back-end processes to make it happen, so the app, for example, will scan identification such as a driver’s license, process the identification verification and order debit cards automatically. The bank also sends disclosures electronically. The same account opening system will work online as on the mobile app. “We’re trying to make this device independent,’’ he says. “Our branches say it is so time consuming to open an account. It really makes the customer experience better.”
Somerset is using Bolts Technologies to launch the new account opening platform. It already uses Malauzai Software for its mobile platform and Fiserv as its core processor. Gill and Cook declined to provide estimates of the costs and savings associated with mobile account opening. But being a privately owned bank certainly helped justify the investment, Cook says. “An awful lot of traditional businesses [are] very afraid of taking the incremental risk because some Wall Street types are going to be on their backs: ‘What about this quarter?’ The job of the CEO is to maximize shareholder wealth over time, and somehow that has been lost.”
Only about 10.6 percent of all the banks and credit unions in the country had fingerprint authentication as of March, 2016, according to an estimate in Mobile Banking Quantified, a report by research firm Celent and FI Navigator. Fewer than 1 percent had photo bill pay and 4.1 percent had debit card on/off switches in the app.
Why does Somerset, a community bank, want to be in the league of only a few banks offering such services? In the late 90s, the bank was struggling to grow and had only about $200 million in assets. It surveyed about 10,000 people, who said they wanted to do business with a community bank, but perceived that community banks just can’t “keep up.” Cook decided that the bank, in fact, would need to keep up. “Why do people not deal with local banks? They don’t think they’re experts. What does an expert mean in this day and age? We think technology is part of that answer.”