Bank Branches Provide Services That Online Banks Can't

6 Things Your Internet Bank Can't Offer

Bank Building
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Online banks changed the way we bank—for the better—and some people now live entirely without a brick-and-mortar bank account. Online customers can earn more money, pay less in fees, and enjoy the convenience of banking from their computer or mobile device.

But you might not want to ditch your bank or credit union branch just yet. Although they may seem old-fashioned, branches offer several valuable services that you only miss when you can’t have them.

Does that mean you should close your internet-only accounts? No way. If you don’t have an online savings account (not to mention checking) you’re missing out.

Here are six perks of using a bank or credit union that offers physical locations.

Instant Cashier’s Checks and Money Orders

Need to make a purchase, but a plastic card (or personal check) just won’t do? For some transactions, like home purchases and certain types of deposits, you need “cleared” funds. That usually means you need to bring a cashier’s checkwire money to an account, or provide a money order to whoever you’re paying.

Online banks can provide cashier’s checks, but you don’t get same-day service. Instead, you typically order the check online and then wait a few days for the check to arrive by mail (or pay a modest fee for overnight service).

Sometimes that’s not feasible. You might not even know exactly how much the check should be for until a day or two before you need it. It’s nice to have the flexibility to change things without tying up your funds. Ordering multiple cashier’s checks and trying to cancel an unused cashier’s check via mail requires an excess of cash on hand.

If you’re on the hunt for that perfect apartment or making last-minute negotiations on a home purchase, instant access is a must.

Unlimited Cash Withdrawals

It’s probably a rare occasion when you need a significant amount of cash. But when you do, it’s nice to have the option to withdraw what you need. For example, you might want to buy a used car on short notice.

Getting a significant amount from an ATM is difficult. There are ways to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from online bank accounts, but you may need to visit a bank or credit union that’s willing to accommodate your request.

With an account at a brick-and-mortar bank or credit union, getting cash is as easy as filling out a withdrawal slip at the branch. As a bonus, you can also get cash back into your account quickly and easily. Keeping cash is unsafe, and it creates temptation, so there’s little reason to keep it around any longer than necessary.

Safe Deposit Boxes

Got small valuables and no good place to keep them? Concerned about what would happen to your files if your house catches fire?

A safe deposit box is a great place to store important documents and small valuables. Instead of reinventing the wheel and creating an ultra-secure (fireproof, theft-resistant, water-resistant) location in your house, let the experts handle it. Banks store your items at a meager cost, and you just need to get to the branch during banking hours to retrieve your belongings.

You need to keep important documents safe, but you rarely need to do anything with them: Birth certificates, Social Security Cards, copies or originals of certain agreements, and other records, for example. If they’re just an accident waiting to happen, why not put them in a facility that can do a good job of keeping them safe?

A drawback of safe deposit boxes is that you might need something when the bank branch is closed. To avoid problems, be mindful of storing anything that you might need on short notice, such as passports and medical care directives.

Notary Services

Some agreements need to be notarized. That means a Notary Public must verify your identity and watch you sign the document. The notary certifies that it was really you who signed and that you did so willingly (among other things).

By definition, an online bank can’t really offer this in-person service. But many banks and credit unions can—often for free (at least one or two signatures might be free, but you’ll pay a fee if you’ve got a pile of papers).

As with many services at brick-and-mortar branches, getting a document notarized isn’t something you need every day. But it is extremely important on those occasions when you do need it. Alternatively, you can use a local (or mobile) Notary Public to handle any one-off signatures.

A Place for Your Coins

What are you supposed to do with all of those coins that end up in your coin jar? Coins are money, so it’s worth putting them into a form that’s easy to use—whether you spend the money or add it to savings.

Shipping coins to an online-only bank isn’t feasible (and it’s probably not even allowed). You could pay to have it counted at a machine in the grocery store, but plenty of banks and credit unions still accept coin deposits without taking a chunk of your savings. They might even let you bring in a mixed jar of coins and do all of the sorting and counting for you.

Face to Face Meetings

We live in a virtual world, and tasks are getting easier and easier to accomplish online. Traveling to handle a simple transaction in-person is tedious, and can even be a major inconvenience.

That said, there are times when it’s nice to sit down with somebody face to face. Communication over the phone or internet isn’t always clear, and sometimes it feels better (and might even be faster) to talk and look at things together. Typing out questions and answers has its place, but it’s not always the best solution.

The Future of Bank Branches

Branches aren’t dead, but they are evolving. Historically, banks established branches to gather customers, but things have changed. In a digital world, customers don’t need to visit branches to open accounts or make deposits.

Different banks are taking different approaches to branches, and several strategies may include:

  • Fewer bank branches: A presence in a local market doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a leader in that market, so some banks are backing away from branches to reduce costs.
  • Targeted branches: Businesses always choose locations carefully, and banks are taking that to a new level. Especially in lucrative markets, banks may continue to spend for visibility and market share. But they aren’t using the widespread approach of years past.
  • More technology: Branches may also have fewer people inside. With ATMs that accept deposits—as well as machines that let customers talk to a remote teller by video—banks may reduce staff while keeping a branch open.
  • Premium services: Traditionally, customers would visit a branch to open basic accounts like checking and savings accounts. That’s still an option, but customers can handle routine tasks online. Branches may become the place to solve more complicated problems or receive premium services (like wealth management and business services).