The Coastal Bank

Educating businesses to defend against cyber attacks

By Susan Thomas Springer

The high-tech bank robber needs very little to cause big problems—all it takes is a computer and an Internet connection. The Coastal Bank in Savannah, Ga., is fighting against cyber thieves by arming its commercial customers with both the knowledge and the technology to protect them.

Two years ago, The Coastal Bank began an intensive education effort aimed at making all of its business customers’ computer systems safer. The $455 million-asset bank began its education program for two main reasons. The bank’s executives realized too many businesses erroneously assumed their banks carried insurance that covered all cyber loses, even for breaches emanating from a client’s faulty network security. Also, businesses had misinformation about cyber risks and didn’t realize that common practices, such as using open Wi-Fi access at Starbucks, made sensitive information more vulnerable.

So The Coastal Bank’s executives designed a program to share the wealth of knowledge they already possessed from Bank Secrecy Act and Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council guidelines. The cyber protection effort was also a good fit for a community bank that stays a step ahead of new technologies such as remote deposit capture, mobile banking and 24/7 access.

“As a community bank, these are our friends, families and neighbors, so how could you not share? We want to make sure that everybody knows, clients or no clients, there are ways to protect yourself,” says Seanne Holliday, the bank’s vice president and director of treasury services.

It took six months of planning before rolling out the program in 2011. The Coastal Bank kicked off its security program by inviting 150 top business clients and prospects to an informational event. The classes begin with an eye-opening video about the escalation of cyber fraud, followed by an explanation from Holliday and a colleague about how to reduce the risks of transacting. Holliday says he will even “come out and sit in front of their PC” to help business customers set up their online profile with protections in place.

The Coastal Bank began with weekly education events to rapidly reach all business customers. Through word-of-mouth, soon other businesses and organizations such as chambers, homeowners’ associations and Rotary Club chapters asked the bank to teach classes.

The Coastal Bank is also providing, at a low cost, military-grade security to its retail and business customers that protects Internet-enabled computer devices through an added layer of encryption. By working with a variety of vendors, the bank provides a layered approach to protecting both business and individual customers. The system imposes fraud procedures that require additional passcodes via text, phone or voicemail when a customer accesses their financial information from a new computer or device.

“Today, if you’re interacting with us via online banking, you have the benefit of some sort of additional out-of-band type authentication process to protect you,” says Rob Horan, the bank’s senior vice president and support services group leader.

During the past two years, thanks in part to The Coastal Bank’s education programs and the security system it provides, fraud losses by the bank’s commercial clients have been down. Horan says those cyber-security efforts are not only providing its businesses with solid protection against security breaches, but they’re also enhancing the confidence commercial customers have in the bank. “It’s a good opener for a conversation, and it’s a way to help strengthen that relationship and possibly add more products,” he says. “It’s beneficial all around.”

“We’ve always thought that knowledge is power,” Holliday adds. “We have an opportunity to provide information that protects them.”

Susan Thomas Springer is a writer in Sisters, Ore.