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Deena M. Amato-McCoy
Deena M. Amato-McCoy
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Vineyard Aids Wildfire Communities with Mobile Banking

Purchases and equips two mobile branch vehicles for quick banking transactions.

Purchases and equips two mobile branch vehicles for quick banking transactions.

The wildfires that ripped through Southern California in late October 2003 may have devastated the areas' communities, but Vineyard Bank made valiant efforts to give its clients and residents of the area financial peace of mind through the deployment of mobile branches and ATM units.

Vineyard National Bancorp (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) operates Vineyard Bank, a community bank located in the Inland Empire region of Southern California. The bank, which has more than $750 million in assets, also features loan production offices in Manhattan Beach, San Diego, Irvine and Beverly Hills. Since the bank operates branches in the communities of Crestline and Blue Jay, Vineyard's clients directly felt the effect of the wildfires. Vineyard Bank operates nine full-service branches in Rancho Cucamonga, Chino, Diamond Bar, La Verne, Crestline, Irwindale, Blue Jay, Corona and Manhattan Beach. Although its offices were not damaged by the fires, Vineyard did not sit idle.

"Our president and CEO, Norman Morales, wanted to provide the ability to serve our customers in the community in the event fires prohibited us from servicing our customers" in traditional branches, says Bob Dieter, Vineyard's senior vice president and CIO.

Hitting the Road

Vineyard acquired a motor home, and quickly added four teller stations inside the vehicle. With the addition of a local area network and satellite communications network, the RV was transformed into a mobile branch.

Next, Vineyard purchased another used mobile ATM vehicle equipped with two Diebold (North Canton, Ohio) 1060 model ATM units from a credit union in St. Louis. "We had two associates fly to St. Louis, and drive the van back as quickly as possible," relates Dieter. Upon the ATM van's return, five Vineyard associates began stripping the old credit union slogan and adding Vineyard logos by hand. Simultaneously, a team began installing its communications network into the van and RV.

"We wanted to use a cellular network, but we learned that cellular only offered spotty service on the burning mountain" and its communities, explains Glen McLaughlin, network administrator. "Instead, we opted for satellite communications." In constant communication with Fiserv (Brookfield, Wis.) and Atlanta-based Information Technology Inc. (ITI), a unit of Fiserv, Vineyard's core processing and ATM transaction service providers, the bank worked with both Fiserv companies to get the mobile branch and van-based ATMs networks integrated with Fiserv's data center.

Satellite Network Requires Precision

Vineyard had to constantly monitor the communications network, as a satellite network relies on precision. "We had to keep the dish pointed directly at the satellite in space. One thing we learned is if you are off by even an inch on the ground, the signal can miss the satellite by 10 miles in the sky," McLaughlin explains. "Also, the power company warned us that power would be up and down as they repaired service. So we opted to purchase a power generator to keep the vehicles up and running."

The bank then got a pass that allowed it to move the RV and van onto the base of the burning mountain. On November 4, the mobile units parked in the mountain's Lake Arrowhead Village parking area and opened for business.

"Customers visited the vehicles to conduct deposits, open new accounts-especially for residents who may not have the ability to reach their bank-and cash FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] checks," says Gwen Wertz, senior vice president and regional manager for Vineyard. "The mobile branch also issued emergency personal and business loans to customers impacted by the week-long tragedy, and even printed personal checks for customers."

The vehicles were equipped with enough cash "so we would not run out," Wertz says. "These temporary locations were equipped with alarms and monitored by armed guards, keeping them secure for all customers and associates."

The vehicles finally moved off of the mountain on November 12, after processing more than 30 ATM transactions. Within the same timeframe, the mobile branch had more than 120 customer visits. The RV and ATM-loaded van currently reside at the bank's warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga. "We plan to use them at special events and pre-branch openings in the future," says Dieter.

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