SHINGLE: Data bank

SHINGLE: Data bank

HED: Making a statement

DECK: Financial institutions use new technology to offer account information

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

With the tax deadline growing closer, it’s time once again to drag that box of old bank statements out of the closet to begin the search for proof of those deductions.

But what if you could just flip through a neatly organized loose-leaf binder containing images of your checks or press a button on your computer and download the information instead?

Banks in Northeast Mississippi are beginning to follow a national trend using new technology to change the way you receive and have access to your account statement.

This month, customers of the Peoples Bank & Trust Co. will begin noticing that they no longer receive their canceled checks each month in the mail with their statements.

And for the past two months, customers subscribing to Deposit Guaranty National Bank’s on-line service have been able to access their account via their personal computer at home.

In the future, expect more area banks to convert to some of the new technology as well as additional technology becoming available that will make catalog shopping a whole new experience.

Statement imaging

The Peoples Bank in Ripley, which is not affiliated with the Tupelo-based Peoples Bank & Trust Co., was the first bank in the state to use a new statement method known as statement imaging.

Statement imaging uses high-tech scanners to, in effect, take a picture of both sides of a check and store that image in a computer data base. The computer can then quickly sort the checks into the proper order and print out smaller images of the checks – 12 to a page – to be mailed out with a customer’s statement.

Each page comes with prepunched holes so it can be inserted into a loose-leaf binder each customer receives when opening an account. The actual canceled checks are held by the bank for a short time and then destroyed.

Banks that have switched or are in the processes of shifting to statement imaging say the imaged checks are just as valid as the originals.

“We got clearance from the attorney general’s office when we first thought about it,” said Bobby Martin, president of the Peoples Bank in Ripley. “They said the images are just as legal as a check.”

Since it was first offered in August of 1993, 98.5 percent of the bank’s 8,500 accounts use the statement imaging service, Martin said.

At the Peoples Bank & Trust Co. in Tupelo, customers began receiving their December statements this month with imaged checks instead of the original ones.

The bank decided to make the switch when it came time to replace 13-year-old reader/sorters that had been used to sort checks for return in statements.

“It takes a tremendous amount of time to get checks sorted down and then put in an envelope,” said Jerry Iverson, first vice president for operations. “This helps keep the cost of banking down for us and our customers.”

Martin said the savings in postage alone from not having to mail the original checks back should be enough to pay for his investment in the scanning equipment within five years. But he said there are other advantages to both the bank and the customer.

“The thing that overshadows (the savings) is the research value,” he said. “As fast as a clerk can put the check number in (to the computer) she can show you the check.”

Going on line

Deposit Guaranty plans to begin offering statement imaging to its customers in the first quarter of this year, but customers already have access to their accounts via computer through a new service initiated two months ago called GuarantyConnect.

Protected by two levels of system security to prevent a customer’s account information from being accessed by anyone other than the customer, GuarantyConnect allows customers with IBM PC-compatible computers and Windows software to dial up their account at any time.

While offering some of the same information available through the bank’s 24-hour, toll-free phone number, there are additional features available for the monthly $9.95 charge for the service.

Customers can pay their bills through the service and are not limited to a list of utilities or banks for making those payments.

“If we can verify the address, you can pay that bill through the service,” said Pam Kloha, a vice president for corporate communications at Deposit Guaranty.

Kloha said about 1,000 of the bank’s customers have signed up for GuarantyConnect since it went on line.

But the biggest difference between information over the phone or by computer is the computer’s ability to interact with other programs.

“You can download information to use with your financial management software, such as Quicken,” Kloha said. “Also, you can get more account information. By phone you can only get information through your last statement cycle. With GuarantyConnect you can get up to 180 days of activity. That’s six months of activity. It gives you more information.”

Deposit Guaranty plans to expand the scope of its phone service this year by offering what it calls the phone screen, which allows the customer to see their transactions being made over the phone rather than just listening to the automated system.

Customers will have to purchase or lease the phone equipment, which also will include a slot for inserting a credit card.

“It lets you order merchandise over the phone without ever talking to a representative,” Kloha said. “Just punch in that you want the green sweater in a large on page 12 of the catalog, swipe your credit card through the phone (slot) and that’s it.”

Click video to hear audio