Going green at the bank Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

More businesses are recognizing the ecological and economical benefits of adopting green practices, whether that means instituting an office recycling program or integrating sustainability practices into the company’s strategic plan. Going green is not a fad; it’s here to stay.

“Even small steps a company makes to reduce its footprint can pay off, starting with reducing wasteful paper trails in every part of the business,” says Craig Johnson, president and CEO, Franklin Bank, Southfield, Mich. “Many businesses are making an effort to go paperless, and bank transactions are an easy first step toward that goal if your bank offers the right tools.”

Consider your company’s banking transactions. Beyond online banking and bill pay, there are technologies available to decrease paper flow, reduce your carbon footprint, save time and avert additional fees if your financial institution charges a premium for hard-copy statements.

Smart Business spoke with Johnson to discuss ways that banks are making it easier for businesses to operate in a leaner, greener way.

Aside from online banking, what other paperless banking technology is available?

Electing to receive statements online saves a monthly mailing and creates an electronic footprint, which is a good thing. You can easily access information online, saving trips (and, therefore, gas) to the branch. Beyond that, companies can process checks at their place of business through remote capture. This technology requires obtaining a check machine, which is used to digitally file checks. The machine converts paper checks into electronic files, which are transmitted to the bank. Funds are available immediately, and canceled checks are readily accessible online. The ease of service alone is reason to incorporate remote capture into your business practices. The efficiency created on the business and banking sides of every check transaction is significant. Remote capture is the wave of the future in banking — it’s ‘green’ and incredibly convenient for business owners.

What is the payoff for adopting paperless banking practices?

Rather than counting dollars and cents, consider other important factors that indirectly affect your company’s bottom line and are just as important: productivity, efficiency and accessibility. How can going paperless improve these areas of your business, and what will that save your business? For example, remote capture saves a trip to the bank (carbon emissions and time) and makes checks more accessible by storing them online.

As more financial institutions adopt internal paperless strategies, they will encourage customers to embrace electronic banking. Banks may begin charging fees for getting paper statements or opting for the paper version of a service that is offered digitally. Already, most banks truncate cashed checks and store images on film rather than mailing the canceled paper checks back to your place of business. We can assume that as consumer demand for ‘green’ infuses the business world and flows into the mainstream, service providers across all industries will continue efforts to be more sustainable.

What are bank branches doing to become more green?

As businesses begin to embrace a more sustainable culture, they may elect to do business with vendors that are equally committed to the cause. If this describes your business, you should talk to your bank about technologies in place that show an effort toward being a good corporate citizen. One example in the banking world is branch capture, which is essentially remote check capture at a bank level. Rather than banks couriering checks to a processing center, where personnel run checks through energy-intensive machines, branch staff ‘copies’ checks digitally, using a check machine. Those images are stored electronically and transmitted to the processing center. Branch capture benefits both the bank and business customer. First, the customer gets immediate credit for the deposited check. Second, the paper trail ends at the branch, saving time and energy.

For businesses concerned about whether moving to completely electronic banking is safe, can you address the security issue?

There is actually more control and security with online banking because electronic statements are password protected. Identity theft can occur through snail-mail if banking statements and bills are intercepted. Meanwhile, by managing accounts online, you likely monitor them on a daily basis and will immediately detect fraud, should it occur. Most consumers and businesses are comfortable logging in to online accounts by now to reconcile accounts. Receiving statements and depositing checks this way is just as safe. Paper is essentially one more step in the financial transaction that can get lost, intercepted, misplaced and abused. Talk to your banker about online security and find out what systems are in place to assure that transactions are private.

CRAIG JOHNSON is president and CEO of Franklin Bank, Southfield, Mich. Reach him at CLJohnson@franklinbank.com or (248) 358-6459.