The business of banking has always been a personal one.

According to Kurt Raicevich, senior vice president and head of retail banking at First Federal of Lakewood in Lakewood; Kevin Sulecki, branch manager at Ohio Savings Bank’s Cedar Center branch in South Euclid; and Paul Vargo, regional manager of retail at Peoples Bank in Beachwood, in-person banking allows for relationship-based customer service to shine.

“You get a chance to sit down with the customer and get to know them better,” Vargo stated. “That is what we strive to do. We want to be a trusted adviser to the client, build a relationship with them and find a solution for any need they may have. And we need to ask the right questions to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

Raicevich added, “I would say that a lot of it has to do with relationships. It’s having a go-to person in the form of a bank to go to with your financial questions, challenges and future. It’s being able to have an establishment of a relationship.”

Sulecki said in-person banking also plays a role in local banking.

“There is that family atmosphere and that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “The human touch, personal service and the caring attitude, especially when celebrating their life-changing moments with them, is important.”

With the advent of online banking, the professionals said local branches had to adapt to set themselves apart.

“It has dramatically,” Sulecki began. “When you talk about in-person banking, the traffic coming to the bank has changed. We used to get a lot of people coming to cash their social security checks but now there is direct deposit so they don’t come in. It’s about us following up with our customers and letting them know what is available.”

Raicevich noted in-person banking has embraced technology in some places.

“We’ve made (in-person banking) efficient, especially with the advent of

drive-thru options,” he said. “We’ve invested in technology to give that option. You have all these options online, but it’s not the same as going inperson and gauging someone’s reactions.”

Vargo added technology has further pushed the importance of in-person banking.

“When someone comes in to open an account, you want to spend time with the client and learn all about them because you might not see them as much as you would in the past,” he said. “What hasn’t changed over the years though is that we should be taking great care of the client whenever they come in. But, it is a challenge because more people are going online and you might not see them as often.”

The professionals said in-person and online banking now work hand in hand.

“They both tie in together,” Vargo said. “We wouldn’t be able to compete if we didn’t offer online banking today. It’s about tying those two together and figuring out how the relationship building fits in there. You need to tie that in and give them the best of both worlds.”

Raicevich added, “I’d find out what (a client’s) needs are and how they manage their finances and what they ultimately want to achieve. I understand their comfort levels with technology and then understand their future plans. Many people are used to what they are used to.”

But, relationships are at the heart of it all.

“Most people want to be recognized when they walk into an establishment,” Raicevich said. “They want to be known as a customer, that their business is valued and that they are appreciated. It is anything to deepen that relationship further.”

Sulecki noted, “Relationships are everything, it’s what it’s all about. Until you build a relationship with a client, you’ll never have that solidification. Without that, they could move onto another bank.”

Vargo added, “Relationships are everything in banking and life. You’re handling their money and they want to know that you’re always looking for the right thing for them. You want that trust and relationship from the start. Hopefully, after that, they keep returning.”

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