On the Road Again – Bank of Bird-in-Hand
by Lori A. Maley, President & CEO of Bank of Bird-in-Hand
2023 will mark five years of Bank of Bird-in-Hand’s Mobile Branch fleet crisscrossing the country roads of Lancaster County and beyond.
When you hear “mobile banking”, one typically thinks of an application accessed on your phone for on-the-go transactions. While Bank of Bird-in-Hand certainly has its own easy to use mobile app, it also operates a fleet of fully equipped, thirty-four-foot Mobile Banking RVs. Starting with one RV in 2018, Bank of Bird-in-Hand currently has four Mobile Branches, or “Gelt Buses” (as “gelt” is the Pennsylvania Dutch word for “money”), servicing Lancaster, Northern Dauphin, and Southern Chester Counties at eighteen locations, such as hardware stores, greenhouses, and open-air markets. Each bus has an ATM, teller window, and walk-in service area, where customers can open accounts with a Bank of Bird-in-Hand team member.
The idea of a Mobile Banking fleet is not unique to Bank of Bird-in-Hand, as mobile branches are found in regions across America and around the world. At the heart of the concept is a need to serve an underserved market. Whether during an emergency or natural disaster, or locations referred to as a “bank desert” – areas with inadequate banking services – a mobile branch brings an opportunity for banking services where a brick-and-mortar branch is not always feasible. For Bank of Bird-in-Hand, the mobile branch was a natural fit to serve the needs of the Plain Community, as the travel circumference of the Amish population is limited due to their means of travel. A prime retail location at the intersection of major highways may be convenient for the traditional consumer, but when traveling by horse and buggy, it can be cumbersome, or even dangerous.
One of the benefits of the Mobile Branch program is the ability to enter and test a geographic market quickly and economically, versus the time and capital investment of locating, constructing, or renovating a branch building. In late 2021, Bank of Bird-in-Hand was contacted by members of the Plain Community in Lykens Valley, Dauphin County, to explore the possibility of Bank of Bird-in-Hand to have a presence in their area, as there are very few banks accessible via the non-primary roads. Recent mergers in that market left the Amish communities unhappy with the remaining options to meet their needs. Bank of Bird-in-Hand determined the fastest method of delivery of service would be a mobile branch. The original Gelt Bus was taken out of retirement, re-equipped, and put back into service in less than two months from the initial paperwork filing with the FDIC. Plans are now underway to explore construction of a branch building in the Lykens Valley area in 2023.
Maintaining a Mobile Branch fleet is not without its setbacks– severe weather, vehicle maintenance, or traffic jams can impact delivering banking services when your branch is on four wheels. Even in the most spacious of RVs, working in close quarters takes self-discipline and the right personalities to work together. “It’s an adventure every day,” shares Jess Turnowchyk, Bank of Bird-in-Hand’s Assistant Mobile Branch Manager. “There’s lot of unique circumstances you don’t experience in a branch building, so there’s a lot of problem solving on the fly. But, I can sit outside and connect with my customers, or open their accounts while their pet dog snuggles in my lap. To me, that far outweighs the challenges.”
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This article was first printed in our December 2022 Edition of Thriving Magazine. You can read more here: Lancaster Chamber Thriving Magazine