Robert Whalen, chief executive of Founders' Bank, is taking his institution on the road.
Mr. Whalen, who also is president of the $70 million-asset bank, was so intrigued by the possibility of a "mobile office" that he has sent himself out into the field to talk to customers and see how technology can help his bank originate loans, open new accounts, and achieve other banking functions from remote locations.
The pilot program, which the Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based bank began early this year, allows bankers to work at remote locations without requiring electrical outlets or telephone Iines.
The mobile office "allows bankers to be in the field to serve customers' needs on the spot by bringing the bank to the customer," said Mr. Whalen. "Through the use of the latest technology, we have the ability to communicate from the field to perform all of the-tasks that can he done in the office.
"If this trial proves as successful as I'm expecting it to be, my plan is to equip all our bankers with mobile offices, in essence making them mobile bankers,'" be continued. "Our bankers will be taken from behind the-desks and sent directly to the customer, whether they are in an office, on a boat, in a plane, or even on the beach."
Stephen Ledford, vice president of Global Technology Concepts Inc., Atlanta, said the idea of the mobile office has been around since mid-1980s, but, until recently, required the use of "exotic" technology.
"With the advances in the technology and the' cellular links, it does not take much effort or [many] dollars to set up the type of system to make the mobile office a reality," he said.
"The mobile office is one of the tools for banks to use to continue to stay competitive through automation and allows the bank to go to the customer instead of waiting for the customer to come into the branch."
The technological components of the mobile office include a cellular-phone, a notebook computer with fax capabilities, a docking station, a laser printer, and a cellular modern.
The items fit into a slightly oversized briefcase and operate with a single battery.
The technology was given to the bank as a joint effort between Bedminster, NJ.-based Bell Atlantic Mobile and Computer Communications, Solutions of Wyomissing, Pa.
The bank got the technology for free under the agreement It pays for air time on the cellular phones.
"From printing loan documents to checking if items have cleared, everything can he done in the field,"Mr. Whalen said. "There is no application that I can't do in the field that can he done in the office.
"The technology enables people in the field to have access to information which up to now was only available by walking into a branch," he said.
Founders' is piloting one mobile office - Mr. Whalen's, for now - and plans to roll out two more by the end of the fourth quarter. Mr. Whalen said the estimated cost of the mobile offices is about $6,000.
He got the idea for the mobile office while reading an article on the subject quoting Dennis Strigl, president of Bell Atlantic Mobile, Mr. Whalen said.
"Once I read the article, I wanted to find a way to 'use the concept' in my everyday wOrk life," he said. "When I wrote to the company for more information, they responded by providing me with the tools to put the pilot in place."
Mr. Whalen said that, in addition to offering access to outside information, the mobile office lets bankers stay in touch with internal information such as electronic mail.
"When we started the bank six years ago, we equipped everyone with personal computers, with the idea that, soon, people would not have to come into the bank," Mr. Whalen said. "This allows us to continue to focus on,and provide high levels of service to customers."
Founders' Bank was launched in 1988 and now has a full-time staff of 21.
The one-office institution targets professionals and business owners in the Delaware Valley.