First National Bank of Omaha finds strength in a growing branch network

First National Bank of Omaha finds strength in a growing branch network

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by Mike Earleywine, Senior Vice President, Retail Banking, First National Bank of Omaha

We've all seen the headlines sounding the death knell for bank branches, with experts citing the rise in digital banks and nonbank competitors, the prevalence of banking via our phones, as well as the costs incurred to maintain the branch infrastructure as reasons for the impending demise.

And though First National Bank of Omaha has seen a significant increase in electronic transactions in recent years among our customers, we continue to experience a considerable amount of branch traffic.

Digital (including web- and mobile-enabled) visits by our customers grew 12.7 percent in 2016 to 77.4 million. Despite this, our branch presence remains important, as we also processed more than 8 million branch transactions in 2016. Two new branches, opened last year in Overland Park, Kansas, and Grand Island, Nebraska, have both outperformed expectations.

A recent survey published by the American Bankers Association supports the continued interest our company sees in maintaining a strong branch presence.

In June, Morning Consult, on behalf of the ABA, surveyed nearly 2,000 registered voters nationwide and found that 87 percent of respondents said it was "important" to have a local bank branch easily accessible from their home. Nearly 60 percent said it was "very important."

Construction is underway on two retail branches in the Omaha metropolitan area slated to open later this year, plus a location in Boulder, Colorado, that will be finished in early 2018. These projects follow new construction in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2014 and Longmont, Colorado, in 2015.

All of these branches are part of an integrated network of more than 100 locations across a retail service area that includes Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas.

First National Bank of Omaha employs a combination of resources to get feedback from our customers, including focus groups, customer interviews, feedback links and surveys. Responses indicate that while we continue to see a trend of customers using our digital channels versus the branch channel for convenience, it hasn't decreased the value that our customers place on our branch network.

Among our findings:

  • a convenient branch location — defined as being near an individual's work or home, or close to their general driving patterns — is still a driving force as to why consumers choose one bank over another;
  • customers across all age groups still prefer to visit a branch when establishing a new relationship or dealing with more complicated situations, even if those situations could be addressed via digital means. Knowing there is a convenient physical location available helps build trust with customers;
  • asked where we can improve, customers most often responded that they would like for us to provide more branches and ATMs and longer open hours; and
  • customers said that the advantages of banking with us in our branches included the availability of expert bankers to handle mortgages and other loans, as well as investment advisors, safe deposit boxes, instant access printing of lost or damaged debit and credit cards, and our self-service coffee bars.

First National Bank continues to invest in its existing branch locations through a comprehensive renovation project that offers enhanced merchandising opportunities while highlighting the local attractions and history of the communities each branch serves.

For example, in Overland Park, the 4,800-square-foot branch features a "community wall" in the vestibule. This wall weaves together the history of First National Bank and the community, highlights the bank's community support focus, and showcases iconic locations in the Kansas City area. The branch also features artwork by local artist Jeffrey Owen Hanson.

This treatment extends to our existing branches, as well, as evidenced by recent updates to one of our longstanding branch locations in Omaha.

The branch sits in the heart of what was once a thriving amusement park area known as Peony Park. Long gone now, it was extremely popular and provided memories for generations of people throughout the region.

Similar to the design of our newer branches, this existing location now sports its own community wall dedicated to Peony Park, complete with photos of the attraction during its heyday and the message, "Welcome to Your First National Bank."

With First National Bank's 160-year tradition of commitment to the communities we serve, it's natural that we would stake our future on an ever-growing network of retail bank locations while continuing to invest in new electronic platforms.

Expanding the options for customers to communicate and transact with us outside the branch doesn't necessarily translate to the end of the bank branch as we know it. In fact, our experience has been quite the contrary.

Mike Earleywine is senior vice president of retail banking at First National Bank of Omaha, a subsidiary of First National of Nebraska. First National of Nebraska is the largest privately owned banking company in the United States. First National and its affiliates have more than $21 billion in assets and 5,000 employee associates. Primary banking offices are located in Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas.

Topics: Bank / Credit Union, Branch Transformation

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