Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

"Ivan the Terrible" Wreaks Havoc, but Adds New Business Line: Alabama Bank Creates "Personal Storage Service" to Meet Customer Need for Off-Site Backup

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

"Ivan the Terrible" Wreaks Havoc, but Adds New Business Line: Alabama Bank Creates "Personal Storage Service" to Meet Customer Need for Off-Site Backup

Article excerpt

Hurricane Ivan, the strongest Atlantic storm of 2004, caused billions of dollars in damage in the Southeast.

Banker Robert R. Jones III experienced some of the widespread damage directly. Two branches of his United Bank, Atmore, Ala.--situated close to the Gulf of Mexico--were destroyed by Ivan.

Afterward, the $488 million-assets bank conducted customer focus groups regarding the storm's effects. It found that while most people know to stock batteries and other supplies, and have evacuation plans, Ivan underscored the need for "financial evacuation plans."

The bank put such a plan together and publicized it, so customers would know a quick way to bring important papers, account numbers, and such with them if they had to get out fast. But because even with a plan, originals can be lost, destroyed, or misplaced, the bank realized there was an unmet need for backup storage of documents, as well as other personal effects.

London brings inspiration

The obvious solution--the safe deposit box--wasn't the answer. The bank had long offered safe-deposit service, says Jones, United's president and CEO, but it hasn't been all that popular.

"Maybe this is a Southern thing," he says, but his customers don't care for all the rigmarole that accompanies safe-deposit service--dual keys, employee involvement, etc.

"We have become a society of convenience," says Jones.

The problem kept percolating in Jones' mind. Finally, during a trip to London, he found the answer.

In his strolls through London, Jones kept seeing people on the street sliding plastic cards through readers at the doors of offices that weren't banks

"What they were doing was accessing self-storage centers," says Jones. These locations look pretty much like private post-office box centers, except instead of handling mail, they provide access-controlled storage bins.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Why can't we do that?" he thought. …

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