Going Digital Everywhere

Luvleen Sidhu
Luvleen Sidhu

A Pennsylvania community bank creates an all-mobile, nationwide banking division

By Collin Canright

Today almost everyone is on the go while staying constantly connected to the rich resources the Internet and mobile communications provide. So adopting a wide range of sophisticated mobile banking capabilities that are easy to use should be a big competitive advantage.

In theory, customers, particularly younger ones, should flock to such convenient offerings on digital wings.

Retail Relevance
36 percent of community banks say branches will play a smaller role in their retail delivery strategy.
Source: ICBA member poll

Portable Internet
80 percent of Internet users own a smartphone.
Source: Global-WebIndex

That’s what Customers Bank in Phoenixville, Pa., is counting on. The $5 billion-asset community bank has created an all-mobile, retail-focused banking division to allow its customers to bank easily where they want, when they want. And the bank has big plans for its tech division, called BankMobile. On a foundation of easy-to-use, inexpensive mobile banking products, it wants to attract tech-savvy millennials and middle-income households nationwide, many far afield from its Philadelphia home base.

“We view ourselves as a technology company with a bank charter,” explains Luvleen Sidhu, BankMobile’s chief strategy officer.

For starters, BankMobile is providing debit accounts, joint accounts and savings accounts. It also offers access to a line of credit up to $5,000, plus access to more than 55,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. This all-digital operating model, which largely generates revenue through interchange transaction income, has allowed the bank to introduce a no-fee, all-mobile account, Sidhu says. It also offers a guaranteed savings rate that is higher than those of the nation’s top four banks.

But taking a long view, Customers Bank wants to do more than introduce a less-expensive mobile banking alternative into the marketplace, Sidhu says. It also wants to make the banking experience more positive and less frustrating.

“Opportunities to use technology to provide no-fee, effortless banking experiences are enormous,” Sidhu explains. “Banking is frustrating, from account opening through maintaining the account. The whole cycle is frustrating.”

BankMobile developed its platform and functions through a series of partners with its in-house development and design talent. Its mobile onboarding process, in particular, was created internally, including a tablet-based, joint-account opening system. Consumers simply snap a photo of their driver’s license and upload it to BankMobile’s app. After that, app users can make payments with their cellphone number or email account.

“We own the intellectual property on that,” Sidhu says. “There are not many others that can do real-time account opening in under five minutes.”

So far, account growth through BankMobile has been on track to reach a year-end goal of 25,000 accounts, says Sidhu, who is planning the next iteration of the bank’s mobile app to focus even more on the overall consumer financial experience. “We don’t just sell banking products but memorable ‘wow’ experiences supplemented by selling financial products,” she says.

“We don’t just sell banking products but memorable ‘wow’ experiences supplemented by selling financial products. ”
—Luvleen Sidhu, Customers Bank

For instance, plans are in the works for the BankMobile app to present the bank’s customers with a loan proposal while they are looking at cars online or in person. Those customers will be able to find a car, get a loan approval, and in 10 days a car will be delivered to their home. Through the app, the bank’s loan becomes part of an overall buying experience, Sidhu says, not simply an isolated banking product disconnected from the process.

“We really want to encourage other banks, through our example, to find ways to create a memorable experience for customers,” she says.

Collin Canright is freelance financial writer in Chicago.