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Emerging fintech raises bar for convenience, accessibility

‘Branch in their Pocket’

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Prospective homebuyers have a new entry point available in the purchase process – their phone’s app store.

Arvest Bank is the latest bank to roll out a mortgage loan app. The Home4Me app hit the market Oct. 1, said Jami Dressler, Arvest’s assistant vice president of mortgage lending in Springfield. Customers can complete the entire mortgage process, except the in-person closing, through their smartphone, she said.

“It’s part of the way that the world is going,” she said. “If we don’t jump on the bandwagon now, we’re going to be behind.”

The rise of digital convenience is a consistent trend in banking.

A J.D. Power survey found 43 percent of mortgage customers said they applied for a loan digitally in 2017, up from 28 percent the year before.

Dressler said the catalyst for Lowell, Arkansas-based Arvest to offer the digital service was increasing competition with online mortgage lenders, such as Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. In its first month, she said nearly 350 applications were submitted through Home4Me.

“You can go start to finish and be fully digital. They are actually able to send in any required documents with the phone’s camera,” she said. “How nice would it be for someone to be sitting in their pajamas at home and say, ‘I’m going to start this mortgage process.’”

It’s not just mortgage companies upping their mobile offerings, as a majority of consumers now say they prefer to interact with their financial institutions either online or through mobile. Fiserv Inc.’s most recent quarterly consumer trends survey found 56 percent of consumers prefer digital channels to 34 percent of consumers who prefer interactions inside a branch.

At BluCurrent Credit Union, leadership is transitioning its in-branch video banking service to a mobile app set to roll out early next year.

When a member or prospective member walks into a BluCurrent branch, they often interact with an employee centralized at the credit union’s Sunset Street branch through video chat. Derek Williams, the credit union’s chief operations officer, said the technology has reduced wait times to two minutes, increased efficiencies and allowed for the company to staff its branches and departments more effectively.

“Technology is an ever-changing thing, and it seems like it’s ramped up in the financial space,” Williams said.

The new video-chat app was developed by Williams and BluCurrent Executive Vice President Gary Kirk through their own Invo Solutions LLC. It’s a way to engage with members even when they aren’t physically in a branch, Kirk said.

“We love seeing them and love for them to come in, but soon we hope to have them accomplish these same interactions from anywhere,” Kirk said. “Putting a branch in their pocket really adds a lot of convenience for them and puts time back in their day. That was our goal.”

The app will allow BluCurrent members to video chat from their smartphone with a credit union representative, take photos of required documents through their camera’s phone and sign documents digitally, Williams said. He ensures, though, the app still has a “personal experience” option for detailed questions or financial advice.

Through Invo Solutions, Williams said they’ve sold the in-branch video chat software to six other credit unions and they plan to do the same with the app when it is launched.

Kirk said the credit union currently handles 800 video interactions in branches each month, and he expects many members to transition to the app for financial questions. BluCurrent already has a mobile banking app on the market with over 10,800 users.

He said growth in technology doesn’t mean the end of branch locations. As proof, BluCurrent just started construction on a new South Glenstone Avenue branch.

“It’s a hybrid approach of all of these things,” Kirk said. “If we can be convenient and it’s intuitive and easy, our members are choosing that channel most of the time. Then they want to come in and see us occasionally, as well.”

Central Trust Co. also is working on an app platform, and Central Bank of the Ozarks is in process of opening a new location.

“We see more and more people choosing to do their banking online more so than coming into the bank,” said Andrew Tasset, vice president of marketing for both Central Bank and Central Trust. “People feel safer when they know they have their bank around the corner. They feel good that they can still come in and make a deposit.”

He said Central Trust will introduce an app for its trust clients early next year. One feature is allowing clients to track their investments. The Jefferson City-based financial company has had a banking app since 2009, and it’s got over 23,000 users.

“For any business, it’s all about mobile first,” Tasset said. “We’ve heard from clients through our customer surveys and interactions through our bank managers that they want better technology in general, better online experiences and better apps.”

He said the bank is employing technology in a new way for its upcoming branch on West Sunshine Street. Rather than talking with a teller in the drive-thru, customers will be assisted by an ITM, or interactive teller machine.

He said there are new developments on the horizon, too, such as working with smart devices and speakers, like Alexa. He said that’s necessary to stay competitive in Springfield’s “overbanked” market. There are 36 banks in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, and Springfield Business Journal list research shows at least a dozen credit unions in the market.

“Can we build the ability with someone in a house to say, ‘Make a deposit,’ to Alexa?” he said. “We have to be on the forefront of what the new technology is.”

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