By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Going to the bank just got a little more convenient.
Peoples Bank has partnered with a company called TimeTrade, which allows customers to schedule an appointment online to meet with a banker.
“The genesis of it was looking at a different way to connect with our customers,” Andy Pohlman, senior vice president and retail sales director at Peoples Bank, said.
Customers had been dissatisfied with the system at most banks – where they walk into a branch and then have to wait until an employee with expertise in that area is free to help them.
“If we can save our customer’s some time, that’s really increasing the level of service,” Pohlman said.
Traditionally, that kind of appointment was just for the higher net-worth accounts.
“That functionality has really been reserved for a select few,” he said.
Now, it’s available for everybody.
As banks have gotten more and more technological, embracing more functional ATMs and mobile apps, many of those advancements have come at the expense of face-to-face interactions between customers and bankers.
This is one time where technology actually encourages more in-person meetings.
“With our bank here, we have a lot of products and services that really work best when you’re face to face,” Pohlman said.
Customers can go to the Peoples Bank website and select their branch, what kind of transaction they need help with and then can schedule an appointment from the calendar of available times. They can also opt for a meeting over the phone instead of in-person.
The customer gets an email reminder about their upcoming appointments, and they can also choose to get a text message reminder on their phone.
Currently, customers can schedule an appointment to meet with someone in most departments, including personal banking, basic lending, home equity and business checking.
Next, the bank is working to get it small business lending and marine loan departments on TimeTrade, so customers will be able to schedule times for that as well.
The bank started using TimeTrade on Nov. 1, and although they haven’t promoted the new service yet, the customers who have discovered it have given positive feedback.
“People are really liking being able to have a dedicated time to come into the branch,” Kailey Ray, Peoples Bank retail products and services manager, said.
The bankers are liking it too, Pohlman said, because when they walk into work each day, they know which customers they’re going to see and what they’ll need help with.
“It allows them the ability to better prepare for an appointment,” he said.
That saves even more time, Pohlman said, because they don’t have to spend the first half of the appointment scrambling to get on the same page as the customer.
TimeTrade was created as a response to customers’ increasing demand for more personalized service, Lauren Mead, a vice president at TimeTrade, said.
“Both is banking and retail, consumers who receive that personalized service are more likely to buy more; they’re more likely to buy again,” she said.
Their research shows that while new technology like mobile apps means people can do their day-to-day banking without ever stepping foot in a branch, when it comes to the complicated stuff, like applying for a mortgage, customers want that in-person interaction.
“That actually spans across all demographics, including millennials,” she said.
Pohlman said technology, like TimeTrade and mobile apps, is helping to level the playing field between small local banks and big national ones.
“You’re not giving up the functionality when you switch from the bigger banks,” he said.
National events, like the recent scandal involving Wells Fargo bankers opening fake accounts without customers’ knowledge, can give small banks an extra boost.
Pohlman said Peoples Bank has seen a spike in new customers since that news broke.
In fact, a Wells Fargo branch is directly across the street from Peoples Bank’s flagship financial center on Woburn Street in Bellingham.
Pohlman said he has watched customers leave the Wells Fargo branch and walk across the street to open an account at Peoples Bank.
The irony, Pohlman said, is that the current landscape is so favorable for smaller banks, and yet there are so few of them left to take advantage of it.
Peoples Bank, however, is taking full advantage, and is thriving as a result.
The Bellingham-headquartered and family-run bank is expanding in Skagit and Snohomish counties.
Just this year it opened a standalone branch in Anacortes and a major financial center in Everett.
The hope is that TimeTrade will help more customers actually step foot into those new branches.
“I know there’s some banks that are working to keep as many people out of the branch as they can,” he said. “We’re a little different.”