First State Bank of Middlebury’s successful digital banking products and services

Thanks to an overhaul of its website and digital product offerings, First State Bank of Middlebury reached—and surpassed—its financial goal.

By William Atkinson

Last year, assets at First State Bank of Middlebury were $475 million. “In February 2016, our president challenged us to reach $500 million in 500 days, which would be July 2017,” says Darla Kauffman, assistant vice president of electronic banking services at the Middlebury, Ind., community bank. “We reached that by the end of November 2016.” By April 2017, assets stood at $517 million.

Part of the growth was due to the success of the bank’s ever-expanding electronic banking services, a function that works closely with other departments in the bank, especially marketing, to explore what customers want and then provide it to them.

One of the first initiatives was to move from a .COM domain to a .BANK domain. “We realized that it was a good idea to get involved, if for no other reason than to reserve our domain by trademarking it,” says Kauffman. The community bank was also attracted to the fact that the domain offers extra security, including additional firewalls.

“While some larger banks began redirecting traffic from their new .BANK domain to their existing .COM, we decided to own our new domain,” she says. “We wanted to be one of the first banks in our area, especially as a community bank, to roll out a .BANK domain.”

First State Bank of Middlebury’s URL was at the time. However, with seven offices in two counties, the bank had been working hard during the previous four years to demonstrate to its customers that it was not just in one community. “We wanted customers to know that we are invested in all of our communities, so we also made the decision to do a website update and rebrand.”

Kauffman got a lead on a West Coast website company that didn’t specialize in banks but did provide excellent websites in general. “We hired them to help us rebrand,” she says. The bank created a new URL, The idea was to show its customers in all of its communities that it wanted to “Be First” in all areas of banking, from electronic banking and customer service to small-business support and support for local schools and other organizations.

Tech overhaul
Before the bank rebranded in August 2015, it introduced a person-to-person (p2p) payment platform. “We worked with our core vendor to roll this out,” Kauffman says. The platform allows customers to quickly send payments to other people, and its popularity grew from the start.

“People really do want to be able to send money quickly, such as parents who want to send money to their children in college,” says Kauffman. The platform runs as an ACH transaction, so payments only take 24 hours or less.

One way the bank helped to market p2p was, soon after rolling it out, to create an in-house promotion for the food pantries in its communities, such that customers could use p2p to make donations that would go to their local pantries.

Mobile banking is another technology that the bank has embraced. It learned from its marketing department that about 89 percent of its online transactions and logins were happening through mobile devices, primarily phones but also tablets, meaning that few people were going online with the bank via its desktop site.

“As a result, we wanted to leverage mobile as much as we could,” says Kauffman. “Part of this was to make sure that our website presented itself well on mobile devices.” The mobile app has all of the bells and whistles that customers expect, such as bill paying, remote deposit, check images, statements and p2p payments.

Also in response to customer interest, the bank introduced Apple Pay, allowing customers who prefer to “have their cards in their phones instead of in their wallets” to engage in transactions. “The popularity of Apple Pay has continued to grow for us, and we are now working on introducing Samsung Pay as well as the Google product for mobile,” Kauffman says.

First Bank of Middlebury’s brick-and-mortar locations are also getting some attention. Last year, the community bank completely remodeled one of its locations, including installing interactive kiosks with touch screens that allow customers to look up bank product information, get rates, find weather information and more. “This location also has a ‘Wow Wall,’ which consists of four 55-inch screens connected to function as one, on which we run ads, information on local community events, customer testimonials and more,” Kauffman says.

The future? “We are always looking for new technologies,” says Kauffman. “For example, we are currently looking for ways to streamline account openings, so we are investigating online account applications, as well as online loan applications.”

The key to all of it, she believes, is to continue to identify customer demands and respond accordingly. “For all of this, we have strong support from our board and top management,” she says.

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.