Wyoming bankers are split on a proposal that would let banks use mobile branches to serve rural communities.

Proponents say that such branches, which are legal in 35 states, would help bankers reach a segment of the "underserved" population. Detractors worry about added competition and say small towns are more than adequately served by automated teller machines.

The debate, which is to be taken up by the state legislature in January, is not new: A similar bill was defeated in Wyoming two years ago. The pro-mobile side this time includes Bruce Hendrickson, the state's banking commissioner.

"It's just logic to me that in this type of market, this type of facility makes sense," Mr. Hendrickson said.

Mike Daly, president of $80 million-asset First State Bank in Wheatland, agreed. "We have some areas in the state where you have a community of 100 people, and the nearest large community is 80 to 100 miles away," he said.

Those are the people that branches on wheels would target, Mr. Daly said when asked about worries that they would park across the street from fixed branches.

Safety is another issue. Don Jording, president of $75 million-asset First State Bank of New Castle, said mobile branches may be more convenient for some people but are also more vulnerable to stickups.

The safety issue comes up in a subplot involving deposit-handling. Some bankers want a provision in the bill that would let bank employees use their own vehicles to collect deposits, an idea regulators and insurers oppose. Mobile branch banking often entails this type of deposit collection.

"If we pass mobile branch banking, then there would be an effort to see if we can get support from the state banking committee for employee pickup," said Dave Johnson, executive director of the Wyoming Bankers Association.

Even Mr. Hendrickson opposes employee deposit collection, saying the risks of robbery are too high.

"It puts employees in an untenable position," he said.

Don Towle, president of Kansas Banker Surety Co., which insures about 60% of Wyoming's banks, is so fearful of a drive-away robbery or hostage situation that he refuses to insure mobile branches.

They "fall in the category of stupid," Mr. Towle said.

First State Bank's Mr. Daly argued that most drivers would be carrying checks, not cash. But he did not argue much on this point, since the bill does not include an employee-pickup provision.


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