Allied First Bank's customers move thousands of miles while they're at work-and are often held over or relocated to cities far from the small bank's enclave in Chicago's western suburbs.
To keep its airline pilot-heavy customer base from using larger banks to deposit checks while away from the bank's baby shoe-sized footprint, the $160 million-asset bank plans to automate remote check deposits through consumer capture for personal computers.
"We can do direct deposits, but if the customers do have checks that aren't automatically deposited, these [pilots] are more likely to walk into a local bank to deposit them," says Andy Harden, vp of operations for Allied First, a one- branch bank in Oswego, Ill. with 9,000 customers.
Once a credit union for American Airlines pilots which became a bank in 2001, Allied First this spring will be the first bank to deploy Bluepoint's Software as a Service consumer capture product. SaaS allows the bank to deploy consumer capture at a cost based on use, with little up front tech expense. "It's not necessary for the bank to develop an entire system," says Dick Drew, evp of Bluepoint, a firm whose consumer capture clients are mostly credit unions. The vendor's competition for consumer RDC marketshare includes NCR, which offers the NCR APTRA Consumer Passport that can be used with either scanners or iPhones, and is offered as a hosted SaaS or as a software solution. Another firm, J&B Software, in March launched a SaaS enabled mobile capture product.
SaaS can defray tech investment concerns, particularly since adoption of consumer check capture is unknown-it's hard for banks to predict how many customers will want to deposit checks via their computer, or what check volume will be in an age of direct deposit. "People don't deposit a bunch of checks," says Bob Meara, a senior analyst at Celent.
Any computer with a secure internet connection and scanner can be used for remote capture. Harden says scanners that can hook into a PC or MAC, which typically cost about $20, can be used for RDC. Once captured, the images are hosted in Bluepoint's data processing center, where corrections are performed.
SaaS also gives the bank access to a central repository of captured images, which can reduce research labor. Harden says the bank made the move because old school remote deposit methods such as postage-paid envelopes were no longer viable given the cost of postage, envelops and travel time. Allied First gets about 3,000 checks mailed each month, and hopes to eliminate about half of that.
Allied First's target market for the product is narrow-pilots with a moderate volume of paper checks who are away from Oswego. Harden also says these pilots are a "more affluent" group, many of whom own personal side businesses, which results in them getting more checks than a typical bank consumer but less than a business.
Allied First isn't currently offering mobile banking or mobile check capture-a mode being considered by other banks for consumer check deposit capture. Citigroup, for example, is planning a rollout of consumer RDC in the forth quarter for both iPhone and PC. Liza Landsman, managing director of Internet & Mobile for Citi NA Consumer, says the bank will not offer scanners, but almost all scanners available today will work. Landsman says the anticipated benefits are a reduced need for consumers to use branches, ATMs or mail for deposits, while Citi will improve customer acquisition and services capabilities outside of its branches.
Harden says Allied First is interested in mobile banking and mobile deposit capture, but is still considering its mobile tech strategy. "With the type of mobile customer base that we have, having check capture on a mobile device makes sense, but we're not there yet."
Ellen Carney, a senior analyst at Forrester, says that while RDC has been more positioned for small business, she did see convenience for consumers. "If you have a check in the mail, you don't have to go though the cost or trip for to make the deposit," she says.
Allied First also benefits from having a niche of pilots that are dispersed and economically reliable, making it a better candidate for remote consumer check capture than a more general customer base. "The customers have to be a good customer in good standing, with a good average balance," says Nicole Sturgill, a research director for TowerGroup.