When the age of the commercial Internet dawned in the mid 1990′s, banks were quick to seize on the potential of this new development. Until that time, retail banks required expensive branch offices in each community they hoped to serve. However, an online bank could broaden its customer base by marketing services to all United States residents.
So it happened that consumers benefited from increased competition for their business while banks cut their costs by reducing or eliminating the need for branch locations and staff. Aurora Bank is one such Delaware-based institution that offers certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market accounts in addition to checking and savings accounts and home mortgages.
How They Work
Aurora Bank has a history that dates back to 1921 and they still maintain branch services at their headquarters in Wilmington Delaware and at one other location in Jersey City, New Jersey.
However, customers outside these regions conduct all of their business online. They can check their accounts, view balances, transfer money between accounts, and pay bills electronically. Apart from online account management features, account holders can contact the bank’s telephone customer service, which is available Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Eastern time.
Product offered by Aurora Bank include:
Aurora Bank has a distinct set of advantages that make it an excellent option for many online banking customers.:
- Competitive Interest Rates. They currently return very competitive interest rates relative to other online and brick-and-mortar competitors.
- Convenient Online Service. Without waiting in bank lobbies or drive through lines, you can minimize the time you spend managing your accounts with an easy-to-use website and online interface.
- Full Service Offerings. Customers can open a wide variety of accounts, manage them in one place, and easily transfer funds between them. Options include checking, savings, certificates of deposit, money market, and home mortgages. Mortgages can be arranged by local brokers and funded through Aurora Bank’s central office.
- ATM Card Acceptance. Although they have few branch locations, Aurora’s ATM card is universally accepted at over two million ATMs around the world via the STAR network. STAR is an interchange network for ATM cards that works like the Visa or MasterCard does for credit cards. It allows any ATM card from a STAR-affiliated bank to use any ATM machine on the STAR network. You can search all of their available ATMs using the STAR Locator.
- ATM Fee Credits. One reason why people still cling to their neighborhood bank is because they fear being hit with fees when they use another bank’s ATM. Aurora Bank does not charge ATM fees itself and will refund any fees charged by another institution up to five times each month. By refunding ATM fees charged by other institutions, Aurora Bank neutralizes this concern.
- Online Bill Payment. Aurora Bank offers online bill pay. This is a great feature because customers can make payments to companies or individuals electronically without dealing with physical checks. By specifying the exact payment date, you can ensure that it is received on time and that your money continues to earn the maximum amount of interest in your bank account before the bill’s due date.
- Government Insured. Aurora Bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (i.e. FDIC insurance), which means that the United States government guarantees all deposits up to the $250,000 limit per depositor.
In spite of the advantages, Aurora does have a few drawbacks:
- Short Telephone Customer Service Hours. By restricting their phone service to east coast office hours during the business week, Aurora Bank is operating counter to other Internet-only banks that offer expanded telephone customer service hours. In fact, most bank branches are even open Saturday mornings and many online-only banks answer their phones 24 hours a day.
- Limited Telephone Availability. I attempted to contact Aurora Bank’s customer service to assess their response times. In two instances, I immediately spoke with an individual. However, I did receive an answering machine one time when calling during their regular business hours.
- No Prepaid Deposit Envelopes Provided. Some online banks offer customers unlimited postage paid deposit envelopes. Aurora Bank does not offer this service, however. Customers depositing checks must either use an ATM or provide their own stamps and envelopes.
- No Access to Some Services. As great as online banking is, there are still some things that can only be provided by a branch. These services include notarizing documents, issuing cashier’s checks, and depositing or withdrawing coins or large amounts of cash.
- Minimum Balance. There is a $1,000 minimum balance for checking accounts and $500 for savings accounts. Account holders who fall below these amounts will incur a monthly fee. In fact, even when the minimum is met, only the balance above that amount will earn interest.
To open an account online, you first need to fill out an application, sign it, and mail it in along with your initial deposit. You will then receive an ATM card that can be used at any bank machine that is part of the STAR network. Savings and checking accounts can be linked to prevent overdrafts as well.
Since nearly all traditional banks also offer Internet banking services, online banks can no longer compete based on this feature alone. An out-of-state bank can go a long way to compete with local ones by featuring ATM fee credits and slightly higher interest rates. Only by providing best-in-class customer service can a bank stand apart from its peers. Aurora Bank’s full feature approach to retail banks makes some progress in this direction, and it is not far from eclipsing the need to ever visit a branch again.
Are you an Aurora Bank customer? How has your experience been with the online bank?