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Banking And Finance
Financial institutions step up efforts to promote paperless banking

While consumers have embraced the conveniences of electronic banking — they’re writing fewer checks every year, according to the Federal Reserve — electronic statements are still not mainstream. Yet, as any banking professional will agree, e-statements are not only faster and convenient, they are also more secure and are good for the planet.

“People like to use the Internet for information but they still like their mail,” said Jackie McVay, Kitsap Bank’s chief information officer.

Last year, the amount of paper statements and envelopes mailed to Kitsap Bank customers equaled 210 trees or 17,524 pounds of paper. The bank estimates that if only 20 percent more of its customers signed up for e-statements, 42 trees and 3,501 pounds of paper would be saved every year.

Which is why, like many other financial institutions, Kitsap Bank is looking at ways to encourage customers to consider their options.

“Sustainability is important. As an organization, we are examining our practices to see how we can be better stewards of our resources,” said Shannon Childs, senior vice president and marketing director, adding that they are actively promoting e-statements and looking at ways to better deliver paperless services to customers.

Business customers are especially heavy paper users since their statements can be 20 pages or more.

“Businesses tend to write more checks and statements can include copies of checks so that does take up paper,” said Jennifer Carrier, assistant vice president and branch manager at Poulsbo-based Liberty Bank. “Plus there’s postage on top of that.”

Financial institutions are pointing out that paperless features benefit them and the customers equally. E-statements are secure — unlike snail mail — as well as much faster.

“They can get them anywhere, which makes it convenient,” Carrier said. “They can save the statement on the computer and access it any time and file it better (than the paper).”

Other paperless features, such as electronic signature cards and records, have also made banking much more efficient. Robyn LaChance, chief marketing officer for Sound Credit Union, recalls the time when signature cards were stored at headquarters and staff had to call HQ to have a signature card faxed. Now, a signature can be verified instantly. Since all record retention is paperless at Sound, it has greatly improved operations.

“It simplifies our recordkeeping tremendously,” she said.

Adoption of paperless options varies by institution but it continues to grow, even though some features, like e-statements, have been offered for years. Jim Morrell, Peninsula Credit Union CEO, said about 70 percent of checking accounts have electronic statements, a number that’s still growing — in the most recent quarter, more than 650 account holders signed up for the service.

“It’s an advantage for both us and members because we’re able to get electronic statements to them much more quickly and it’s safer than mailing them,” he said. “We do save expenses and as a credit union, that saved expense goes into expanded services.”

Paperless options such as online loan application and processing, emailed transaction receipts, online bill payment and other features are increasingly being offered by financial institutions, and many local community banks and credit unions are already offering all of that or are in the process of adding new features. Some are even promoting paperless services through special accounts. Sound Credit Union, for example, has Gold Checking, a high-interest checking account that rewards members for reducing expenses, including through e-statements.

Leah Olson, vice president of marketing, said the goal to offer more paperless transactions and features was one of the reasons last year Kitsap CU went though an extensive program to select a new core computer system. Already, about two-thirds of the 32,000 active online users per month are signed up for e-statements.

“Right after bill pay, it’s the most engaged product we have online,” said Jeff Wells, Kitsap CU e-business manager.

Columbia Bank’s Grow Green Checking, which requires paperless statements, has an added bonus — for every customer who signs up, Columbia donates $5 to Habitat for Humanity. David Devine, senior vice president and marketing director, said the bank is actively promoting e-statements and consumers are definitely embracing the idea.

“Most consumers manage their accounts very differently from the way they did years ago. They’re doing online monitoring and not waiting for a monthly statement,” he said. He said banks are not the only ones being aggressive with paperless — it’s a growing trend for credit card companies and utility providers as well.

“It’s important for consumers to explore their options,” he said.

On a national scale, if only 20 percent of people switched to electronic bills and statements, 150 million pounds of paper would be saved, along with 1.6 billion gallons of waste water and 15 million gallons of fuel, according to PayItGreen, a collaborative initiative between financial institutions and businesses to reduce paper use and promote electronic payments.

“We’re all guilty of maintaining the status quo,” Devine said. “Check to see if your service providers offer those options and do something good for the environment.”

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