WHEELING - The area's banking industry is seeking ways this year to retain customers and add new clients while juggling the ever-changing age of technology that could make some banking practices obsolete.
Could this be the year electronic banking becomes the only way to pay a bill? Will banking fees be increased on debit cards and will ATM users see an increase in fees? Can you still talk with someone you know at your local bank?
For some local savings and loans, 2011 is all about maintaining the status quo during a tentative economy.
WesBanco employee Samantha McGee greets customers at the bank’s downtown Wheeling headquarters.
At Main Street Bank in Wheeling, President Rich Lucas said most economic forecasts are in agreement.
"One thing is certain from most economic forecasts, either regionally, locally or nationally, that 2011 appears stagnant," Lucas commented.
"We do see good signs and hope. As for interest rates, banks don't have crystal balls. We work really hard to not make a bet one way or another. One thing we are seeing is no rapid rise in interest rates," Lucas added.
How are our local banks faring in the sluggish economy?
Fairly well, as United Bankshares Inc. reported earnings of about $72 million for 2010, up from $67.3 million in 2009, and banks such as WesBanco and Main Street Bank continue to focus on offering new services to their customers.
For those seeking loans, the low interest rates are attractive incentives. Yet for those looking for higher interest returns on deposits, the news is not so positive.
"Low interest rates are good for borrowing - very, very reasonable rates. On the other hand, depositors seeking a return on their money might have to hold their breath," he said.
Lucas said Ohio Valley banks have remained conservative in their practices, which has kept them on sure footing.
"Main Street is a conservative bank. We stay with what we know. We know our customers and they know us. It's a trust thing," Lucas said.
Lucas said the personal touch is what maintains the stability of local banks, including Main Street Bank. He said that forecasts also call for fewer bank failures nationally and a more sound banking industry.
At WesBanco Bank in Wheeling, officials said the bank is positioned to continue to improve its services during 2011. That includes continually improving its electronic banking services. Also, WesBanco has plans to introduce additional loan and deposit products this year.
"We have available funds to lend to qualified borrowers," said WesBanco Inc.'s President and Chief Executive Officer, Paul Limbert. "As you know, we have a long history of strong financial performance and our exceptional financial performance in 2010 provides a solid foundation for 2011.
"This year, we will continue to do what we do best: adhere to sound banking principles and use a disciplined approach to manage and grow the bank."
WesBanco also recognizes the reality of a slowly improving economy, along with a growing and more uncertain regulatory burden as a result of the financial reform legislation of the last two years.
"We believe the additional regulatory requirements could adversely affect our ability to be innovative in providing products and services to our customers," Limbert said. "We will have to adjust to changes that are out of our control while we work more diligently on those issues that we can control - doing what is right for our customers as we help them achieve their goals in life."
"We are also concerned about unemployment, especially in West Virginia and Ohio, as well as the recovery of the housing and commercial real estate markets. These are challenges that we have faced for the past few years and will probably face until the national and regional economies greatly improve."
WesBanco has been responding to the needs of its customers through personal service. That includes offering a coin appraisal service to its customers. This service was instituted several years ago.
"We also offer a free coin counting service to our customers through select branches. Since we serve a diverse customer base and attempt to provide a wide enough variety of convenience services so that we offer something for everyone, we have historically led the local market in the introduction of new services. We were first to introduce ATMs, bank brokerage services, bank insurance services, electronic bill pay, mobile banking and a wide variety of loan and deposit services created by our own employees to meet the changing needs of our customers," Limbert noted.
WesBanco continues to offer many free services such as a national network of ATMs as well as free checking to individuals and businesses, free retirement and wealth management consultation services, free online banking, mobile banking, bill pay and debit card services.
"Banking is a customer service business and we pride ourselves in hiring the best people and providing them the best tools to serve our customers. We successfully merge people and technology in a team approach to safe and sound banking that assures the continued trust of our customers in WesBanco," Limbert commented.
United Bankshares Inc. recorded earnings of $72 million in 2010, up from $67.3 million in earnings in 2009. United also recently announced plans to acquire Centra Financial Holdings Inc., with assets of $1.4 billion. Centra currently has the largest market share in the Morgantown area , home to West Virginia University.
Richard M. Adams, United's CEO and chairman of the board, said despite the economic environment, United's financial results for 2010 were strong. United Bankshares, with $7.2 billion in assets, presently has 112 full-service offices in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
"The year 2010 was a successful year for our company in many ways," Adams said."Given the economic environment, United's financial results for 2010 were strong.
"United's income before income taxes was $104.4 million for the year of 2010 while many banking companies struggled to remain profitable. The dividend of $1.20 per share for 2010 represented the 37th consecutive year of dividend increases for United shareholders."