Banking Strategies aim for comfort, convenience

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Liberty Bank has a "living room" in its lobby of one of its Jackson branches.

Bank officials tell The Clarion-Ledger that the room offers customers comfortable chairs where they can sip coffee and watch cable television while they send their deposits by pneumatic tubes above the ceiling to the tellers.

"The concept is that no one has to wait in line unless they really, really want to," said Carlton Stephen, Liberty Bank vice president and senior officer. "We're trying to differentiate ourselves.

A small bank, Liberty has branches in six states and around $340 million in total assets.

Banks such as Liberty are coming up with novel marketing strategies that include focusing on a community relationship and making customers feel taken care of, said Ken Cyree, dean of the business School at the University of Mississippi.

"Some small banks are also recovering from loans that have defaulted, and these defaults create real difficulty for the banks in terms of profits and ultimately capital," Cyree said. "In general though, small banks are in better shape than larger banks in this recession."

A big part of the reason for that is that small banks have niche customers such as churches and small businesses that continue to seek loans.

Metropolitan Bank is another relatively small financial institution that has found a different way to make its customers feel it is taking care of them.

The bank has a "mobile deposit" option -- a car that will come to the customers and pick up deposits to take to the bank.

"Metropolitan's mobile branch, or the 'Mini Cooper,' has been received with great enthusiasm from our clients as it underscores our commitment to 'the ease with which to do banking,'" said Metropolitan President and CEO Curt Gabardi.

"Our clients can call us or schedule a pickup date and time through our website. The Mini is a very low-cost solution for us not only in absolute dollars but as compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar branch location."

Metropolitan -- with offices in Ridgeland, Flowood, Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs and Memphis, Tenn. -- has about $475 million in total assets.

It's the banks personal service that attracted the law firm Scott, Sullivan, Streetman & Fox, P.C., said firm administrator Annette Geoghegan.

She doesn't use the Mini option, but the bank has provided her with a Merchant Check Capture Machine that she uses to scan and transmit deposits to the bank from her desk.

That type of service is what drew the law firm to the bank at the beginning of 2008, she said.

"There's personal service, a personal touch," she said. "You get to know everybody from the president on down to the tellers. (And) their website is user-friendly."

BancorpSouth, one of the largest banks based in Mississippi with $13.4 billion in assets, recently announced that it soon will offer checking accounts and debit cards featuring the name of the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

"Our association with the states' college and university athletic programs offers added-value visibility for our BancorpSouth brand and advertising cost effectiveness, two enviable marketing goals," Michael Lindsey, senior vice president and head of retail banking, said in a news release.

Published: Mon, Sep 27, 2010

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