Can tech help a community bank be 'everything to everyone'?

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This story is part of our Community Bank Tech Projects series. Each day this week we will highlight a technology initiative a community bank pursued in the past year. The aim of the series is to explore where community banks are choosing to invest their limited resources in technology.

There’s a saying at NBT Bancorp. “Take care of your customers. Take care of your employees. And the rest will take care of itself.”

It’s with this mantra in mind that the Norwich, N.Y., bank began an ambitious technological overhaul three years ago.

Through several products, NBT is aiming to give its customers a rich digital experience with insight into their overall financial health and tools to help manage their spending. Meanwhile, it is using technology to empower its employees to provide customers with better service.

So far, the efforts seem to be paying off. Enrollment in consumer online banking grew by 38% in 2016, while business online banking grew by 26% and mobile banking grew by 46%.

“This is somewhat getting to a mature product. So, to keep growing at that rate is pretty significant,” said Joseph Stagliano, executive vice president of retail banking and operations at the $8.79 billion-asset NBT.

Perhaps part of the magic is a widespread approach. Although many digital initiatives are geared toward millennials, NBT’s new products and services offer something to all customers, whether they’re getting ready for retirement or just opening their first bank accounts.

"We know that customers don’t consume information or transact with us the same way. Everyone has their preferences,” said Thomas McEntee, NBT's chief marketing officer. “We try to be everything to everyone when it comes to banking with us.”

For instance, NBT worked with Fiserv on a personal financial manager for customers with a complex assortment of accounts. The tool aggregates all financial activity the customer might be juggling — loans, mortgages, checking accounts — regardless of whether they are in accounts held by NBT.

Stagliano declined to detail how the company approaches aggregation, citing “security and privacy protocols.”

For those who are used to having flexible control through mobile applications, NBT has introduced a service (also offered by Fiserv) called CardValet, which gives customers the ability to set restrictions on their debit cards.

“They can basically turn their debit card on and off at will,” Stagliano said. “They can select what types of stores they want to use their cards at. If they have a child or a young adult who’s on their account, they can specify where those young adults can make their purchases. If they’re traveling they can expand a geographic location just with their fingers to expand and contract a map.”

In an attempt to offer more self-service options, the bank has also installed ATMs that accept deposits without envelopes then process those deposits upon arrival, making the funds available on the same schedule provided by a teller station.

Three years in, 50,000 transactions a month occur at the self-service ATMs. This, in turn, has allowed NBT to change the role of its branch staff.

“We’re not rushing customers out because of these simple transactions,” Stagliano said. “We’re taking more time with the customers, having more detailed conversations and really educating them on the products and services that we offer. We’re seeing the needle moving because of that.”

As its employees' duties are shifting, NBT is also giving them the technology they need to become more mobile. Every time a laptop gets sent to the junk pile, staff members have the option of replacing it with a tablet, which they can use off-site.

NBT employees are now better equipped to get into the field and educate people on the many new services that the bank provides, which Stagliano said has been the greatest hurdle in taking on these technological upgrades.

“The challenge is just helping customers understand how to use the technology," he said. "It’s like giving a Ferrari to a 16-year-old. They don’t know how to drive and they really don’t know how to use it as a tool.”

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