BankOnBuffalo has hit the road with its new mobile bank, BankOnWheels, to meet the needs of underserved communities.
By William Atkinson
This past November, BankOnBuffalo, a division of $5.5 billion-asset CNB Bank headquartered in Clearfield, Penn., added a new branch to its preexisting lineup of 12 branches and offices in or around Buffalo, N.Y.
Where is this newest office located? Well, it depends on the day of the week. The $1.1 billion-asset community bank division based out of Buffalo built and outfitted a “rolling branch,” called BankOnWheels, an innovative banking experience that makes full-service banking accessible to more consumers and small businesses, particularly those in underserved communities, according to BankOnBuffalo president Michael Noah.
“We are providing banking options in areas that have been known as ‘bank deserts,’ which is very important to us as a community bank.”
—Michael Noah, BankOnBuffalo
The first of its kind among financial institutions in western New York, BankOnWheels is a full-service bank branch within a 34-foot recreational vehicle. It enables the community bank to deliver essential banking services to communities that previously had little to no access to them. “We are providing banking options in areas that have been known as ‘bank deserts,’ which is very important to us as a community bank,” Noah says.
All the bells and whistles
The mobile branch has all the essentials to fill that void. BankOnWheels includes a walk-up ATM and two exterior teller windows where transactions can be performed and a platform desk is located for customers to speak with a bank associate.
“Anything you can do in one of our branch locations, you can do in the BankOnWheels.”
—Michael Noah, BankOnBuffalo
Inside, it has most of the features of a traditional bank: a lobby, teller window and an office for private conversations with a BankOnBuffalo associate.
“We saw the need, and we were eager to get the BankOnWheels rolling across our community,” says Noah. “Even with the rapid rise of technology allowing so much banking to be done remotely, research told us that consumers and business owners still greatly value branches where they can have face-to-face conversations with bankers, get answers to their questions and receive the assistance they need with transactions, loan applications and account openings.”
BankOnWheels has all the technology and services that the community bank’s brick-and-mortar locations do, including wire transfers, an ATM, a teller cash recycler and an instant-issue debit card machine. “Anything you can do in one of our branch locations, you can do in the BankOnWheels,” Noah says.
BankOnWheels evolved over several years as bank executives spoke with and listened to community leaders.
“People didn’t ask for another bank location that the community couldn’t get to,” Noah says. “They wanted a way to bring the bank to the people and make it more accessible for the community. That really was the evolution of BankOnWheels: listening to and responding to the community.”
Building a branch
The planning process took more than two years. “We were involved in a ground-up planning process, similar to opening a new branch,” says Noah. “The project evolved over time, because we had to make sure that BankOnWheels had all the necessary capabilities of one of our branches.”
BankOnBuffalo worked with local vendors to build and outfit the inside of the RV. A firm called Mobile Facilities LLC built the mobile banking unit, and multiple vendors were engaged in wrapping and servicing BankOnWheels. “This was an extensive process undertaken to bring the final product to the community,” says Noah.
The community bank uses its existing branch staff to operate BankOnWheels, with four to five employees working on rotation, two at a time. “This creates a consistent client experience from a very well-trained and versatile team,” Noah says.
As for security, BankOnBuffalo vetted and selected a third-party security firm, based on the firm’s ability to manage the complete security process and protect the community bank’s employees.
“They work closely with local law enforcement and our corporate security team,” Noah explains. In addition, a professional security team from the security firm drives the RV and provides comprehensive security for BankOnWheels and its staff when they’re on the road.
Expanding its footprint
When the branch first became operational, it began serving three communities through its deployment in Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
Within weeks of opening, BankOnBuffalo gained new customers in these areas and began opening new accounts. Based on the results and additional input from the communities, the bank plans to add other sites to the list in the future and keep this show on the road.
William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.