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No Need for Mobile Banking Here, But Make Room for Horses

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Here's a banking market with strong credits, successful businesses and little need for expensive technology. But leave room in the parking lot for horse and buggy.

A group in Pennsylvania has asked for approval to establish Bank of Bird-in-Hand, which would be the first de novo bank in the U.S. in more than two years. Named for a nearby town, the bank is located "right smack in the center of the Plain community," says Craig Rodenberger, marketing director at Ephrata National Bank in Ephrata, Pa., referring to so-called Plain People groups like the Amish and Mennonites.

Bank of Bird-in-Hand's organizers are planning to make loans and offer checking and savings accounts to Amish and Mennonite farms and small businesses. But since nearly all Amish, and some Mennonites, avoid the trappings modern culture, they don't need many bells and whistles, says Donald Kraybill, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa.

"Since they don't really have access to computers or the Internet, they're not interested in banking online," says Kraybill, author of "The Riddle of Amish Culture."

"They want old-fashioned, shake-the-hand banking," Kraybill says. "They want to make a deal with someone they know and trust."

About two-thirds of the group that's organizing Bank of Bird-in-Hand is Amish. But the bank itself will not be operated by Amish people, nor will it be officially affiliated with an Amish church or group.

Most Amish people speak their own dialect of German at home and in church, but nearly all can also speak English. So, Bank of Bird-in-Hand will not need to provide services in the Pennsylvania German dialect. Further, the bank's founders expect to have plenty of non-Amish customers.

But they do want Amish and Mennonite customers, and for good reason.

"They're credit ratings are spectacular," Kraybill says. "The businesses they have started in Lancaster County (Pa.) have been very successful and their failure rate is very low."

Bank of Bird-in-Hand wouldn't be the first bank to cater to Plain People. The organizing group was involved was HomeTowne Heritage Bank, a bank that had Amish customers and was later sold to National Penn Bancshares. The $785 million-asset Ephrata National Bank, located not far from Bird-in-Hand, Pa., has a significant number of Plain People as customers. Everence Credit Union of Goshen, Ind., is an official ministry of the Mennonite Church USA.

Most Amish bank customers would have no interest in a credit card, Kraybill says. Nor would they need car loans. Primarily, they would be looking to take out loans to finance their farms, or to acquire land for starting a farm.

It would behoove Bank of Bird-in-Hand's organizers to make some special dispensations, however, Kraybill says. One is that their branches should be "easily accessible by horse and buggy."

"If they have to drive into a big town or even a small town that doesn't have parking facilities, that's going to be a challenge," Kraybill says. "And they need to have a parking area for horses."

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