Electronic banking on rise


PITTSFIELD -- One local bank is donating money to food banks, another is relying on a new checking system. Others have left it up to their customers to decide.

Different approaches. Same purpose.

Local banks are using trying different ways to get their customers to switch over to electronic banking statements, known as eStatements, from the traditional paper ones.

"Our goal is to save customers time and money through reduction," said Tami Gunsch, the senior vice president of retail banking at Berkshire Bank.

In order to enhance that process, the Berkshire Bank Foundation is planning to donate up to $25,000 to five local food banks in its four state coverage area depending on how many customers switch over to eStatements. The foundation is pledging $1 for every customer who converts to eStatements through May 30. The facility receiving donations in the Berkshire area is the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Gunsch said there has been a significant amount of interest so far.

"We started on April 3," she said. "We’ve had an almost 4 percent increase in people switching over."

EStatements contain the same monthly information that a bank’s traditional paper statement does, including check images. But representatives of local financial institutions say eStatements make it easier for customers to access their financial information, are more secure than paper statements, cut mailing and postal costs, and can help reduce a financial institution’s carbon footprint.

On average, a paper statement costs a financial institution $2.15 to deliver, while an eStatement costs 13 cents, according to Lee Bank President David J. Bruce.

"We don’t have to produce the paper, we don’t have to have someone stuffing the envelope, and we don’t have to have someone paying the postage," Bruce said.

The use of eStatements is also becoming more prevalent in an increasingly digital world.

"Everything is headed there," said Liz Bissell, a spokeswoman for MountainOne Financial Partners, which operates MountainOne Bank in Pittsfield, the Williamstown Savings Bank and South Coastal Bank outside of Boston.

"When customers start using eStatements they see very quickly the benefits," Bissell said. "EStatements are so much easier than hard copy. (Information) is available at your fingertips anytime you can get on a computer. And I can save my online statements as PDF (files). It’s just easy."

According to Bissell, 34 percent of MountainOne’s total households use eStatements, along with 55 percent of the households who only have checking accounts.

"Those are pretty good numbers," she said.

At Lee Bank, Bruce said customers who switch over to eStatements are eligible to receive rewards under a new national brand of free checking and savings accounts, known as Kasasa, that the bank began utilizing in March.

Lee Bank offers four Kasasa financial products that offer customers rewards that include high interest, cash back, automatic savings, or digital downloads from either iTunes or Amazon.com.

Bruce said the Kasasa system is an extension of the cache checking program that Lee Bank implemented through a company known as Bankview, a nationally branded checking account firm, a few years ago.

"That product was so successful that we decided to go to the next level and expand the types of ways customers can earn these rewards and expand the types of awards they can get," Bruce said.

"We’re certainly seeing the adoption rate of eStatements increased," Bruce said. "The rate of adoptions has increased since we started to offer these accounts for customer rewards."

Several local banks are leaving the decision to switch over to eStatements in the hands of their customers. The Greylock Federal Credit Union has an "opt-in" policy, according to James Wojtaszek, the vice president of marketing and public relations. The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank doesn’t have a formal sign-up program either, but vice president of branch operations Peter Marchetti said customers are allowed to choose between paper and electronic statements when they open an account.

"We don’t do any huge push on this," said Adams Community Bank President and CEO Charles P. O’Brien. "What we strive for as a bank is a lot of dialogue. We’re trying to simplify our customers financial lives and focus on the convenience of getting an eStatement. It’s one less piece of mail, and you get an email that makes it very easy to receive and find old checks."

According to O’Brien, some 27 percent of the bank’s customers were receiving eStatements when the merger of Adams Cooperative Bank and South Adams Saving Bank was finalized in February 2012. That percentage increased to 32 percent within a year of the merger, and is at 36 percent now.

At the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, 30 percent of customers receive eStatements, according to President Jay Anderson. Berkshire Bank’s penetration is 25 percent, according to Gunsch. Twenty-five percent of Greylock’s customers also receive eStatements.

"I’ve been involved in the ecommerce area since the late ‘90s, and I do think it’s a good idea," Wojtaszek said. "For me, it’s a matter of convenience. Individual members get (an eStatement) on the first day of the next month. There’s no delay in transit. You can print it, or save it as a file. There’s a greater level of flexibility."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
(413) 496-6224


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