Horizon Gives Big Banks A Run For Their Money
Horizon Gives Big Banks A Run For Their Money

Apr 1, 2003 12:00 PM

Increasingly rare and therefore all the more valuable, Horizon Bank, Pembroke Pines, Fla., was chartered in 1999 to serve as an independent, local bank dedicated to serving the needs of its community.

As a full-service bank, Horizon offers the same range of services as a larger operation ! from personal and business accounts to commercial and mortgage loans. "Our clients are those who want to bank with a 'local' bank ! our style of banking is old-fashioned in the sense that it's personalized, but with high-tech delivery of services," says Beth Kroll, senior vice president of bank operations and the bank's security officer.

The high-tech way in which client services are delivered relies heavily on sophisticated security technology ! and there's nothing old-fashioned about the digital, biometric and keyless solutions in place at Horizon Bank.
Big Challenges

Though Horizon Bank offers all the same products as a larger bank, Kroll notes, its role is still akin to a diminutive David pitted against a mighty Goliath: "We still must maintain the same regulatory requirements as any big bank," Kroll points out, "and that can be difficult from a compliance standpoint, because it becomes even more imperative that you are cost-conscious about hiring employees."

Kroll asserts that personnel is one of the biggest expenses to any business, and that Horizon Bank has tried where it can to minimize the need for employees by putting in place operational technology that enables customers to serve themselves while ensuring the security of the facility.

To identify those technology solutions, Kroll ! who herself has an extensive banking background and accompanying knowledge base regarding security requirements unique to banking environments ! called upon Security One Systems, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Security One consultant Tony Belotto to design the system solutions that have since been implemented.

Kroll points out that would-be perpetrators might target a small bank more readily, believing a small bank less adept at catching them ! but not Horizon Bank.

"Initially we had in place only the minimal requirements that banks need in order to comply with security regulations, but when we moved into our permanent facility, Security One and Tony Belotto helped us to design our current systems, which have met our needs perfectly."

Belotto gives the bank kudos for its forward-looking orientation: "Horizon Bank takes its security very seriously," he says. "I've worked with banks ten times their size that have less sophisticated systems in place ! Horizon Bank recognizes that an initial investment in technology will pay for itself in the long term."

Belotto explains that customer access to the safe deposit boxes is now biometrically controlled with a Bioscrypt fingerprint reader and an International Electronics Inc. (IEI) keypad, thus making it an automated system.

Surveillance has been upgraded using Panasonic color cameras throughout interior and exterior spaces ! including the drive-through facilities ! and an American Dynamics Intellex digital recording system that runs on both the company's LAN and WAN for local or remote image access. Cameras include a mix of plainly visible cameras along the teller line, less-noticeable dome cameras elsewhere inside the bank and pinhole cameras at the exterior drive-through service area.

Tellers, too, are enjoying greater automation with a new keyless entry system for teller workrooms. And the overall security of the bank has been heightened by a closely monitored Napco intrusion and holdup alarm system.

The digital recording system has already proven its worth in terms of incident capture, according to Kroll. "In one incident, for example," she explains, "we knew we were contending with a bad check writer and that there was fraud involved. We had contacted the police so that when that person came in, detectives were here and able to take him in ! but it came down to the need for evidence. With the digital system, I was able to find the picture of him on video making the transaction in question almost instantaneously and gave it to the detective before he left. They were in awe of the speed and of the color camera picture quality."

Kroll adds that the system has provided valuable time and cost savings as well. "Thomas E. Lunak, the president of the company, can sit in his office off-site, click an icon on his PC desktop, and view every camera in the bank," she explains. "And I can do the same here on-site on my PC."

Other considerations Horizon Bank faces rival those of a bigger bank ! which have been addressed by the fingerprint-verification access solution. "In banking, there has always been a need for a full-time vault attendant ! and thereby a full-time salary and benefits," Kroll says. "But in today's environment, we can't afford to have someone just sitting at a desk full-time, so most banks have done away with the position or have tellers doing double duty while customers wait in line for service."

The biometric system has eliminated the need for the vault attendant, Kroll says, providing a virtually indisputable access history log for the bank and considerable convenience to the customer. The system has helped the bank realize other cost savings by making key administration and personnel tracking less labor-intensive. As a bonus, it has provided a virtually foolproof means of mitigating identity fraud.

In choosing a biometric, Kroll says, "iris scanning was somewhat intrusive, so we did not opt for that, but the scanning of the hand or finger is external and seemed acceptable. Much of our community population is elderly, however, and people with arthritic hands wouldn't be able to use the hand scan because it requires a hand be presented flat. So we went with one-digit fingerprint scan, combined with an access code, that provides clients direct access to their boxes without teller assistance.

"Customer reaction has been excellent," Kroll continues. "Customers think it's great to enter the bank, bypass everyone, and do what they need to do themselves."
Smooth Implementation, Operation

Technology is, however, only part of the solution for Horizon Bank. Kroll notes that the professionalism and vigilance of personnel remain a critical first line of defense against potential risks. "We make every effort to hire professional staff with considerable experience who are able to quickly identify and respond to problems so that they can be resolved as soon as possible," she says. Off-duty police officers manning the lobby area are a further protective presence.

Kroll says that implementation of the technology solutions was smooth, with an easy learning curve both for customers and employees who administer the biometric access system ! and that the functionality and cost savings presented by the systems has been key.

"People looking to migrate to these sorts of solutions who have access control in place now can very easily migrate to the biometric component," Kroll notes. "It's an easy installation ! not a major conversion at all ! and ultimately, the most important thing to upgrade is your personnel's approach to and your customer's acceptance of the new technology."

Kroll recognizes that other security managers might find such systems upgrades cost-prohibitive: "Their feeling might be, 'This is much more expensive than what I'm accustomed to paying,'" she says, "but in the long run, if they really analyze it, they'll find it's much more cost-effective across the board to operate like this. Really, it all comes down to a matter of mindset."
Kate Henry is an Annapolis, Md.-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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