Meeting demand for mobile ‘it’ feature at a community bank

By Penny Crosman for American Banker,

his 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.

Community banks with a large retail focus know that they have to offer many of the digital bells and whistles big banks have in order to stay competitive.

One such feature is an on/off switch — an option on a bank’s mobile app that lets users suspend their debit cards when, say, the card is misplaced or when the user wants to have more control over their spending. Several community banks have offered such a switch for a few years now, and Bank of America and Citi rolled out such products last year.

As did Provident Bank in Jersey City, N.J.

In December, the $9.5 billion-asset bank deployed the technology as U-Shield, an iPhone and Android app that lets customers control their cards.

Provident, the oldest bank in the Garden State, said it chose to offer the service to allay customer concerns about security.

“The No. 1 objection that customers have to getting a debit card: they’re afraid,” said Betsy Gomez, first vice president and director of retail administration at the bank. “What if it’s breached? What if somebody gets my number? What if I leave my card at a restaurant and somebody takes it and they have access to all this money and I’ll be out all this money? It’s not like a credit card. This is my checking account and everybody values that.”

Tech priorities

U-Shield lets customers turn off their debit cards when they’re not going to use them or when they lose their card.

But it’s not only an on/off switch.

A “Control By Location” feature lets customers make sure their cards work only where they are and are blocked in locations where they are not. The app lets customers set merchant categories, transaction types and spend limits according to behavior, to prevent someone else from using their card to go on a shopping spree. The app also lets customers set real-time transaction alerts and offers, analyze their spending and manage transactions.

The technology came from FIS and the solution is called SecurLock EQUIP. It took eight weeks to integrate with Provident’s systems.

“It was an easy enough project and implementation,” Gomez said. Employee volunteers tested the software, trying different transaction types and locations—Gomez even tested it during a European vacation. It had to go through Apple’s App Store vetting and be modified for Google Play.

Branch staff make sure customers know about U-Shield when they get new debit cards and help them set it up. The bank also has a video explaining the new product on its website.

Gomez said she doesn’t have any statistics about the program’s success so far, but customers seem to like it.

“The engagement is high from our customers. It’s free and it works for everything including current payments,” Gomez said. “Customers are very much enjoying it and it’s offered with every single debit card that’s issued.”

Additionally, to protect online banking users, Provident recently shifted to a .bank domain. It was one of the first banks to do so. The idea is to provide a more secure website and some protection against spoofed or phishing emails and sites — provided customers are aware and look for the .bank in the URL.

“We always tell the customer they should be alert to any type of email that looks suspicious, that they should contact us,” Gomez said. “Contact center employees are trained on that, branch employees are trained on that, that we never ask for personal info when we call or email.”