NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- "Fear" is a strong word to describe how Americans view online banks, and why they want physical bank branches to remain on the financial services landscape.
But that's exactly how one financial analytical firm describes the penchant for consumers to keep relying on bank branches for their savings and deposits needs.
"Despite the rise in online and mobile banking alternatives, American bank branches are not going anywhere," says Glory Global Solutions, a global cash management firm in a brand new report. "Much of this is driven by trust and a fear of online transaction security, with more than half surveyed believing that face-to-face transaction is safer for their account information than online banking."
Not only do 66% of Americans still use bank branches once per month, 73% say branches "will still be needed in ten years." What's more, 56% of financial consumers believe "a face-to-face transaction is safer for their account information than online banking, with a third (33%) considering it 'significantly' safer."
"The fact is that people are emotionally tied to branches - they trust them," said Joe Gnorski, vice president of marketing and sales at Glory Global Solutions. "Even when attractive alternatives exist - like telephone or mobile banking - many customers feel comforted and reassured by an in-person interaction, so banks need to be thoughtful about scaling back their branch network too far, too quickly."
Some financial consumers say there are better terms to describe their mindset on the attraction of bank branches.
"The one word answer 'fear' is not sufficient," says Mike Arman, a Florida-based economic development director, and former mortgage broker. "More correctly, it is 'fear of banking stupidity.'"
"I want a bank where I can walk in the door, sit down in front of someone who is in charge of something -- not a so-called customer service representative in another country -- look them in the eye and demand a coherent explanation and a prompt fix for their latest screw-up," he says. "Harsh? Not really. Can you imagine your mortgage company having the same 'quality' of customer support as your cable TV service?"
Data breaches are also just one fear factor that draws Americans back to bank branches.
"It's not just fear of cyber crime," explains Andrea Luquetta, a policy advocate at California Reinvestment Coalition. "Customers need branches, because personal finance questions are just that -- personal. For many people, talking about money is something they feel most comfortable doing face to face with someone they trust, in the language they feel most comfortable speaking. Customers that have low incomes, very tight margins at the end of each month or a momentary crisis are most likely to feel financially precarious and in need of assurance as much as information when they have questions."
Study after study shows that if the banking industry did a better job of protecting customer data, there'd be less talk of bank branches and more talk of digital transactions. And that, banking consumers, is still very much a work in progress.
"The financial services sector must shift from one of 'prevention' to one of 'anticipation,'" says Chadd D. Carr, director, cyber threat detection & response services, at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. "Security professionals will always be reactionary at their core, as they are not the ones constructing and executing threat activities."
Within the prevention construct, aggressively going after what is "known" is still reactionary, he adds. "However, by developing security frameworks from a post-attack perspective, and shifting from a 'How do we prevent the attack?' to a 'How do we contain and remediate the attack?' financial organizations will be better prepared to implement and sustain holistic security architectures," Carr says.
Presumably, that would mean tighter security coverage and more confidence for banking consumers who remain skittish about digital financial transactions. If, that is, banks can make that proactive shift on better cyber-security.
Until financial consumers are confident of that, expect bank branches to prosper.