Feb 7, 12:51 PM
Web banking hits mark in Brevard
Consumers applaud its convenience
BY BRIAN MONROE
When Kenneth Ratliff came to Brevard County three years ago to work for Harris, he became a member of Melbourne-based Space Coast Credit Union. In particular, he was interested in trying its online credit union service.
While he admits, at first, there were some bugs to work out, system redesigns quickly had him going online for everything from checking his savings and checking accounts to recently refinancing his car.
"It's just really convenient," said Ratliff, 26, a software engineer. "I can check my statements anywhere, anytime. I don't have to wait for the mail. If I want to see if something cleared, I can check it instantly."
True, with his refinancing -- going from 8 percent to 5.5 percent for his 2002 Toyota Celica -- he had to sign to papers in person to finalize the deal. But, even then, "everything was ready for me when I got there. I went over on a break from work. It took me 15 minutes."
That kind of convenience and a growing confidence in the security of Internet operations has resulted in a surge of online banking for both banks and credit unions. Both customers and businesses are using such services more and telling friends and associates to do the same.
Experts say it is a window into tomorrow, but admit you always will have to go the bank for some things, like closing deals and getting signatures.
In 2003, Bank of America was the first bank to cross the 7 million online banker subscriber after starting the year with 4.7 million, a jump of 49 percent. Those who pay bills online with Bank of America also rose in 2003, from 1.8 million to 3 million, up 67 percent.
Space Coast Credit Union is no stranger to this phenomenon. It made online operations available in 2000.
Last year, the credit union hit 1 million transactions happening online and it is expecting to hit 1.8 million this year. Already, 30 percent of members bank online, said Thea DeDyne, senior vice president of operations for Space Coast Credit Union.
"Our online operations are up significantly," she said. "People overall are getting more comfortable with going online and members like self service. With things like direct deposit and online bill paying, you don't have to purchase checks or buy stamps."
Sanjay Gupta, e-commerce executive at Bank of America, said there are several reasons for the rapid growth: Customers are becoming more comfortable handling their finances online; they're telling others how easy it is; and they're appreciating the perks of instant financial information.
"During the year, we've seen how customers who don't consider themselves very 'tech-savvy' have become comfortable with online banking," Gupta said. "We expect that trend to continue, as customers find that they can do more of their banking online, 24 hours a day."
He added that, in the near future, people would make their house payments online and even pay their water, electric and other household bills online as well.
Glimpse of future
Current online-banking practices are certainly a "glimpse into the future," said John McCune, manager of banking research for SNL Financial, a banking-research firm based in Charlottesville, Va.
"If you look at where things are going, the Internet presence of banks will really start pulling people in," he said. "People are realizing they have to take advantage of the Internet and what I can do. Not every bank's Web site can do all that good stuff" and the ones that do will attract more customers.
McCune said one operation, Netbank, has a "purely Internet presence," but added that making sure brick-and-mortar banks have a good Web-based business model is part of a larger trend of capitalizing on customer service to draw more consumers in a fiercely competitive industry.
That competition is expected to get more intense with the economy improving and stock market rebounding, he said.
On one end, banks will benefit if consumers get more money to spend or get jobs, which, in turn, could lead to more overall savings and checking accounts and loans.
But banks could take a hit when consumers shift their money from the low rates in certificates of deposits and money-market accounts to the possible higher returns, and increased risks, of the stock market.
"For banks to maintain their capital and deposit levels, they are going to have to have new customers coming in to make up for the deposits lost," McCune said. "So you might see even more consumer-friendly approaches as competition heats up."
Being able to go online has helped Jeni Williams stay a member of Space Coast Credit Union -- even when she moved to a county with no local branches. The resident of Hawthorne, which is near Gainesville, said she has been going online to check her savings, checking and auto loan accounts for nearly three years.
"When I first went online banking, I was scared of it," she said, adding that she forced herself to try it after moving to Hawthorne from Bunnell, in Flagler County. "But the credit union made it so easy. It's a breeze."
That is high praise, Williams said, coming from a self-proclaimed "ditz when operating a computer. I know I am smart, but when it comes to electronics, I am at a total loss. Online banking at the credit union is computer-illiterate friendly."
Williams said she deal with three local banks, but has "no intention of taking my . . . accounts away from Space Coast Credit Union. Their service is incomparable. I have been dealing with banks for 32 years and they are the only one I have stuck to faithfully."
At SunTrust, the online-banking portals "have more business every month than the month before," said Larry Stewart, executive vice president for retail banking for SunTrust's 11 Central Florida counties, including Brevard.
"We have a robust Internet presence," he said. "Customers are saying they want convenience. They want to bank on their own terms."
That mantra is also true for local businesses.
"Compared with two years ago, we have tripled our online banking," said Travis Proctor, president of Melbourne-based Artemis International Technologies Inc., which specializes ininformation-technology outsourcing and virtual-technology support.
It takes care of computers, phones, Web sites and online services for companies in construction, retail, the military and title agencies. "We have been doing it for a couple of years and primary reason is immediate access to information," he said. "It also allows us to automatically bring in numbers to reconcile with our accounting software."
Overall, it makes doing payroll for employees, sending payments to other companies and receiving electronic payments "more efficient," Proctor said. "The majority of our accounts are paid online. We don't have to cut a check, mail it and sign it."
Still, many of the daily transactions and general bill payments are still done on paper, but Proctor is hopes that will change.
"Absolutely I think more bills will be paid online in the future," he said. "Because of the efficiency and ease it will continue to grow."
No stranger to e-commerce, local entrepreneur David Tom of Tom's Enterprises, has been banking online since 2001. Tom specializes in buying items in demand -- like a Sony PlayStation 2 for instance -- online and then selling them to local buyers.
"Part of it was just the ease," he said, adding that he appreciates being able to quickly check his savings and checking accounts. "I could pay my bills all at once without having to write out six or seven different checks. It can be advantageous and make business more secure."
At Space Coast Credit Union, there is a lot you can do online. Here are some examples of what you can and can't do.
- Check accounts: Savings, checking, certificate of deposit, money markets and mortgages.
- Balance transfers: Between current accounts.
- Apply for consumer loans: Including loans for home and cars.
- Tax forms: View yearly tax forms that credit unions sends out.
- Checks: View cleared checks or order new checks.
- Bill pay: Pay bills at a certain time each month.
- Second savings account: Open up a second savings account and give it a nickname, like the skateboard or Christmas account.
Things you can't do:
- Become a new member: Potential members need to show up at a branch in person for signatures and to verify identity.
- Close a home or car loan: For finalizing loans, documents have to be signed in person to close the deal.
The information on this page is for educational purposes only. SCCU is not engaged in providing estate planning or other advice. Please consult with a competent estate planning professional regarding any specific estate planning questions.