The advantages of online banking have been embraced by a majority of the banking public. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 51 percent of U.S. adults, or 61 percent of Internet users, now bank online.
Typical of the surge, Ally Bank, an Internet-only bank, has seen its deposit base grow to more than $40 billion since its launch in 2009.
But if Internet banking is all it’s cracked up to be — promising customers better rates, fewer fees and and more convenience than traditional banks — what’s holding back the other 49 percent?
Other than non-users being addicted to their branches’ bad coffee in styrofoam cups watered down with packets of dry dairy creamer, what could be their possible excuses for not banking online?
We air a few of their biggest concerns and share our responses:
1. ‘I’m afraid online banking isn’t as secure as my traditional bank.’
Obviously, when it comes to your money, you want it secured. That’s one of the main reasons you put it in a bank and not in your mattress.
You have a right to be jittery after learning that cyber criminals gained access to the contact information of 76 million households and 7 million small business JPMorgan Chase account holders just last month.
As serious as this situation was, you have to allow a little perspective. The hack affected both traditional and online customers. Conducting business with a teller inside a branch is no safer than conducting business online. Indeed, it could be riskier. Online financial transactions are encrypted. At a physical branch, you fill out paper deposit slips, not immune from dumpster divers.
Of equal concern, there were some 5,000 bank robberies in 2011 — the last year for complete data — involving losses of about $38 million.
Moreover, some robbers wait and follow their victims home from the bank before robbing them. When you’re bank is an online bank, you’re not in any physical danger.
2. ‘I’m afraid online banking is still a little too new or untested.’
Some form of online banking has been around since the early 1980s. In those 35 years, we’ve seen a lot of change and acceptance. The same way people now enjoy buying music online, using apps to order food or arrange transportation, or purchasing a used set of golf clubs on eBay or Craigslist, others have enjoyed the online banking experience. Actually, the online banking platform has been around for decades, but today with smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops more ubiquitous than ever, online banking has never made more sense.
3. ‘I’m afraid an online bank won’t be nearly as convenient as my neighborhood bank.’
Again, online banks don’t offer complimentary coffee, but they usually beat traditional banks across the board when it comes to offering higher rates and lower fees. They can do this, of course, because their operational costs are so much less than traditional banks. They have no branches, tellers or ATMs to support.
They can return these operational savings to its customers in the form of higher rates. Visit the MyBankTracker CD page, and you’ll quickly notice that many of the highest interest rates paid on different term CDs are offered by Internet-only banks.
Online checking accounts at Internet banks also generally offer much lower or no monthly fees, and sometimes they even pay interest.
Receiving higher interest and paying lower fees for services, of course, is what you want for your money, but the real fun comes with how convenient online banking is.
You can bank 24/7 in your pajamas if you want. You can view balances and statements, transfer money between accounts and when you’re through examining all of your transactions, you can plug all your activity into your favorite personal finance software program.
4. ‘I’m afraid online banking is too technical.’
That excuse isn’t going to fly anymore. Just remember how baby boomers have taken over Facebook.
The same Pew study referenced above also showed that the online (desktop, not mobile) banking absorption rate was fairly similar across all age groups. Clearly, online banking is in the wheelhouse of younger people, but the data also show the over-50 crowd isn’t averse to scanning and uploading checks or taking pictures of them with their smartphone and depositing them via a mobile app if it means they’ll have more money in their accounts.
Here were the results:
5. ‘I’m afraid online banks don’t offer the same kind of FDIC insurance as traditional banks do.’
Both online and traditional banks insure accounts up to $250,000. That said, it doesn’t hurt to verify your online bank’s insurance status. Most web bank sites have an “About Us” section, including information about its insurance coverage from the FDIC, accompanied by the familiar FDIC logo or the words “Member FDIC” or “FDIC.”
You can also check your Internet bank against the FDIC’s online database of FDIC-insured institutions by going to Find Banks on the FDIC website. A positive match will display the official name of the bank, the date it became insured, its insurance certificate number, the main office location for the bank and other links. If your bank is not on the list, contact the FDIC.
6. ‘I know I can scan and upload checks to an online account, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to deposit cash.’
You’ve identified a major drawback with online banks. If you work in a heavy-cash business, say, you sell kettle corn at local street fairs and farmers’ markets, you’ll need to deposit the cash at some point with your bank. Unlike a check, you can’t just take a picture of your cash and have your bank credit the amount to your account.
There are some workarounds. Some online banks allow customers to make deposits at ATMs. But even if your online bank has an arrangement with an ATM network, you might not want to use it. If you feed bills into an ATM and it gets jammed, it’s not an easy problem to resolve.
Of course, you could deposit your cash into your bricks and mortar bank, then initiate an ACH transfer to your online bank, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having an online bank.
Another possibility is to first purchase a USPS money order from your local post office, then mail it to your bank, just like a check. There are few problems with this scenario, however. It costs money, albeit a small fee, to purchase money orders, unless your online bank waives the fee. Second, not all online banks may accept money orders, and third, your money likely won’t hit your account for a few days.
Interestingly, before it failed last year, PerkStreet Financial had a contract with MoneyGram and its more than 18,000 locations nationwide, including every Walmart store, where customers could deposit money into their PerkStreet accounts.
If your online bank happens to accept money orders and you want to ensure that your funds will be available the next business day, you could take a picture of your money order and send it to your online bank, which will extract the routing and account numbers from the check.
If all of the above sounds like a big hassle and a lot of work to deposit your money, you’re right. So, if you’re a heavy cash user, online banking might not be for you. Then again, more and more vendors are transitioning to cashless payment systems as more of their customers use mobile wallets for payment. By accepting more mobile payments, you’ll reduce your reliance on cash payments and win more business from mobile payers.
Online banks have come a long way
In an increasingly digital world, online banks are well positioned to serve millions of traditional banking customers. They also are well poised to use their low-overhead strategic advantage to offer rates and fee structures that can’t be matched by conventional banks.
Nevertheless, not all online banks are created equal. So spend some time window shopping on the screen of your desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet before finding a higher interest-earning home for your money.