Meet Tayler Swanson, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants Bank

Tayler Swanson, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, on a trip to Alaska last summer.

Tayler Swanson, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, on a trip to Alaska last summer.

How long have you been with Merchants?

Tayler: I’ve worked in the Electronic Banking department at Merchants for two years. I enjoy working with customers and helping them solve a problem. It’s a great feeling when things “click” and they value my help.

What is your top electronic banking tip?

Tayler: Always double check everything. Simple accuracy can be the problem half of the time when typing in your password or PIN.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Tayler: Whenever you have something you want to buy, wait and see. I’m actually giving that same advice to my younger brother right now, who is considering making a large purchase.

If you won the Powerball (currently estimated at $50 million) what’s the first thing you would buy?

Tayler: I would buy back my childhood home. I grew up out in the country in Faribault and my parents sold our house shortly after I left for college at Winona State.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Tayler: I like exploring the outdoors. I actually got to visit Alaska this past summer with my girlfriend, which was amazing. We went mountain climbing, visited Lake Eklutna and went on an eight hour whale watching cruse. We saw seals, puffins, dolphins, sea otters, humpback whales, fin whales and a massive glacier.

For more information on our electronic banking options (including Online and Mobile Banking), visit our website.

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants Bank

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike's Peak.

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike’s Peak.

When did you start your banking career?

Nikki: I started at a much smaller bank in 2011 as a Customer Service Representative. When I first came to Merchants, I worked in the Electronic Banking department and since that time have become our Fraud Specialist.

What is your top fraud prevention tip?

Nikki: It’s difficult to pick one because there are so many tips to preventing fraud. I would say my first tip is to be conscious of where you are using your debit card – physical stores and online. Do you know and trust the company you are purchasing from? It’s important to stick with places you know. If a company or person calls asking you for your card information, be extremely cautious. Keep in mind that the Bank will never ask for your personal information unless you have previously initiated a conversation with us about your accounts or a loan application.

I would also recommend reviewing your bank statements or Online Banking records regularly. Set aside time to review purchases and if you notice something suspicious, call the Bank and talk to your Customer Service Representative or Electronic Banking immediately. If your account goes unchecked, fraud can go undetected for months or even years.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Nikki: They taught me to be cautious with credit cards. It’s easy to get in over your head if you’re not careful. My husband and I regularly review upcoming expenses and discuss when we should pay with our credit cards versus our debit card. Once our plan is set, we stick to it.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

Nikki: My husband. He has always wanted to go to New York City and I think he would like to enjoy the experience.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Nikki: My garden – It’s my hobby outside of work. My family always had a garden when I was growing up and now I have one that’s 14×14 feet in my backyard (I know, because I had to dig out the sod myself!). We grow most of your standard vegetables, like tomatoes, onions and peppers. I also have pots for plants that spread, like strawberries

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

Meet Lucas Stangl, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants Bank

Lucas Stangl, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, with his two children in Disneyland.

Lucas Stangl, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, with his two children in Disneyland.

When did you start your banking career?

Lucas: I started at Wells Fargo in 2011 as a Teller and then became a Teller Manager. When I came to Merchants, I knew I wanted to work for a bank I believed in and one that is there for the community. Electronic Banking is a great fit for me because I like helping our customers solve problems. Plus, there’s a lot of variety with my job, which I really enjoy.

What is your top electronic banking tip?

Lucas: There are a couple of things that can make using Online Banking easier for our customers.

First, when you’re reviewing your accounts online, make sure check the available balance and not the current balance. The available balance is what you actually have available to spend. Sometimes the difference can be confusing, so make sure you’re looking at the right balance before you make a purchase.

When completing online transfers, review the details of the transfer and click the confirm button. If you don’t click confirm, the transfer won’t go through.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Lucas: Don’t impulse buy. Wait a few days and if you still want that particular item, then go buy it.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

Lucas: My kids. Hazen is nine and Ada is six. My wife and I try to teach the importance of experiences and I think that would be a very memorable experience for them.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Lucas: Any golf course. I started golfing when I was five years old and actually worked at a golf course in Pennsylvania for ten years – it was really fun.

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

Meet Marcus Krings, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants Bank

Meet Marcus Krings, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, pictured playing with his band, The Whistle Jacks.

Meet Marcus Krings, Electronic Banking Representative at Merchants, pictured playing with his band, The Whistle Jacks.

When did you start your banking career?

In 2006, started working at Winona National as a Lead Teller and worked there for several years. In 2012, I came to

Merchants and have been in the Electronic Banking department since. I like working with computers and helping people, so this job combines two things I really enjoy.

What is your top electronic banking tip?

My first tip would be for people traveling outside of the tri-state area: Make sure that you know the pin number associated with your debit card. Merchants has fraud protection rules in place that require you to enter your pin when making purchases far from home. If you don’t know your pin, you can call Electronic Banking a 866-496-0522 and we can help you reset your pin in time for your trip.

For those interested in using our mobile app, it’s important to note you’ll need to sign up for Online Banking first. You can get started with Online Banking by contacting a Customer Service Representative at your local Merchants Bank, calling Electronic Banking or enrolling at merchantsbank.com. Then, when you search for the app in the app store, use “merchants bank na” because that search term will bring you directly to our app page.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

You have to earn your money. My parents always emphasized that money was something you worked for, whether it was simply doing chores around the house or having a high school job.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

My wife. She really likes to travel and we’d have fun in New York together.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Sour apple green gummies. Those are delicious.

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

Is Online Bill Pay Right For You?

Pros and cons of Online Banking

Pros and cons of Online Banking

This day and age is evolving into a largely digital era, and included in that evolution is finances. Online bill pay is an electronic payment service that allows you to set up secure accounts on the Internet to make one-time or recurring bill payments. Many love this innovative technology for its simplicity and economy, and a few shun it for big businesses’ hidden fees, the possibility of making mistakes and the risk of scams, insecurity and viruses. Read on to see for yourself if online bill pay is right for you.

The first thing a potential online bill payer needs to do is to figure out his or her needs. Do all of your billers accept electronic payments? If not, you will need a bill pay site that will accommodate that by issuing them paper checks. If that is the case, you also need to know to schedule that bill to be paid a little earlier to account for the time your bill pay company needs to send that live check out via the mail (usually about five days).

Furthermore, are your bill amounts the same every month? If not, a scheduled — not automatic — payment through your financial institution might be your best bet; that way, you have access handily to your checking and/or savings account information for variable amounts so as to avoid overdrafts.

There are many free online bill pay websites available to consumers; there are also many financial institutions that offer it via their websites, as well. Be sure to read all disclaimers and fine print to alleviate the fear of hidden fees. It may be a good idea to choose your next financial institution based in part on if they do offer free online bill pay, if that is what strikes you.

Similarly, you can put the control into the hands of the lenders and have the billers debit your account by signing up on the creditor’s own site. Whichever way you choose, automatic, scheduled payments help avoid late fees; they also have the potential to be a very well-organized way to manage your bills.

Dan Kadlec, a personal finance journalist for TIME Magazine, recommends doing all of your banking online for its personal and environmental efficiency.

“Stamps, envelopes and physical checks are an obsolete expense. You’ll save time, too,” Kadlec said. “But best of all, your bank will automatically keep track of what you spend and where you spend it for easy review, which makes budgeting a lot simpler.”

Reducing paper waste by banking and paying bills online does more than save the trees; it helps save the planet by reducing the fuel used by the vehicles that transport the paper statements, bills and checks. Javelin Strategy & Research found that if every U.S. home viewed and paid its bills online, the switch would cut solid waste by 1.6 billion tons a year and curb greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.1 million tons a year.

Some things to look out for

The main concern for anyone doing absolutely anything online these days is security.  But it doesn’t have to be distressing. Make sure your computer has the latest virus protection, never access your account from a public wi-fi system or on any sort of shared device and change your passwords regularly. Also, be on the lookout for messages that claim to be from your financial institution or bill pay company; they could be phishing scams from con artists trying to gain access to your account information. Don’t give out any personal or account information without confirming the source first. As mentioned before, monitor your accounts and statements and watch out for any transactions that you didn’t authorize.

Additionally, one must be careful of typos while paying bills online. You wouldn’t want to accidentally pay $36,000 for a $360 bill, right? Misplaced decimals are small, but frightening. Also alarming is the possibility of forgetting to hit the “Submit Payment” button at all. About 0.18 percent of online bill payments are challenged for mistakes every year (not including errors consumers catch and fix on their own), which translates to millions of snafus when taking into account the billions of payments submitted online each year.

Most of the time, financial institutions or companies will help sort out any problems, but Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association, confirmed that it is much more efficient to just do it correctly the first time.

“It is very easy in this electronic world to get caught up and move quickly, hit the send button before we mean to. We all need to take time, pause — and make sure the transaction is accurate,” Feddis said. Feddis recommends signing up for the bill pay site’s e-mail alert system, and that of your financer, as well, to be notified when a payment or change in your account has been made. This will help catch any mistakes or fraudulent behavior.

Weighing the pros and cons

In short, the positive qualities of online bill pay are abundant, but the practice is not without its difficulties. There are a lot of aspects to consider, such as the convenience factor based on your specific circumstances. It can be a very quick and efficient way to disseminate money because it can be done all in one setting, and it also saves the environment in more ways than one.

On the other hand, Internet security is always a concern for any interaction done online, and mistakes are an inevitable part of life, so vigilance and awareness are a huge necessity in managing finances online. The responsibility of weighing these options and making an informed decision is that of each consumer individually.

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Five Common Online Banking Mistakes

7-14 OnlineMany will argue that banking online has been the best invention since sliced bread. And there’s no doubt about that: no more statements and papers — everything is on your computer or mobile device, right at your fingertips.

But while banking online is certainly a feat that will make your life easier, there are some things that people do without even realizing it can be hazardous to your account safety. For your own security and protection, avoid these top online banking mistakes:

1. Don’t use an easy-to-guess password – You may be surprised at how many people don’t use original passwords, and how dangerous it can be. In an analysis of 32 million passwords done by Imperva, an Internet and data security company, found the top 10 passwords are: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, rockyou, 1234567, 12345678 and abc123. These give hackers an easy in to your account. If you’re using one of these or something similar, consider changing it. Note that the best passwords are ones that use both letters and numerals and involve both lowercase and uppercase characters. Also, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

2. Don’t use public Wi-Fi – When it comes to online banking, accessing community Wi-Fi is a no-no. Why?

“People generally don’t bother to check out the security characteristics of public networks before logging on, plus wireless transmissions can be intercepted by nearby Bluetooth-type devices,” says Richard Barrington, a spokesman for MoneyRates.com. That includes public libraries, too.

“The PCs [at libraries] are subject to viruses and spyware that you have no control over,” explains Robert Sicillano, a consultant for McAfee, an expert on identity theft.

3. Don’t dismiss anti-virus protection - This kind of software helps detect and protect you from malicious software (malware) and computer viruses. That’s important because “[Common viruses like] trojans and worms can infect your computer and use keystrokes and other tactics to get your bank credentials,” warns Sol Nasisi, chief economist at BestCashCow.com. It’s best if you set up your protection software to automatically update daily. Also, sometimes your financial institution may provide free software, so be sure to ask about it if you’re unsure.

4. Don’t ignore your account - Check your account regularly. That will help ensure nothing suspicious is going on in your checking and savings accounts. Try checking it once a day or week, but at minimum, you should be looking at it once a month. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately.

5. Don’t post password hints on social media – It sounds obvious, but don’t share any super personal information on any of your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Doing so makes it easy for criminals to use this information and possibly open up an account in your name, or even use it to guess what your password is.

“It’s important to be careful sharing your pet’s name, your children’s names, or the name of the high school you attended, especially if you use this information as account passwords or answers to security questions,” says Lisa Robinson, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “Never share your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your bank account numbers, or your user names or passwords for any account.”

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Cyber Security Tips for Business Owners

CyberSecurityTipsIf you own a business, your list of stressors is probably vast: Sales, employee turnover, competition — so the last thing you want to worry about is your cyber security. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish an official security plan. Why? Cyber fraud (any crime that involves a computer and/or network) is becoming more and more of a frequent issue. In fact, companies with 250 employees or less suffered more than 30 percent of all online attacks last year (up from about 18 percent in 2011), according to Symantec.com’s 2013 Internet Security Threat Report.

“Cyber criminals are business people, too,” said Arild Jensen, owner of Secos Security, a Granada Hills, CA firm that specializes in cyber security for small businesses. “They’re going to go for the easiest, most rewarding target.”

Fear not. Here are five easy ways to make sure your business’s Internet environment is as secure as it can be.

1. Choose strong passwords. Make sure passwords — for e-mail, Wi-Fi, websites and other platforms — are secure. The most important aspect of creating a password: How long it is.

“The length of the password matters more than its absolute complexity,” explains Steve Gibson, president of Gibson Research in CA. They should be eight or more characters. For even more protection, include letters, numbers, punctuation or special symbols, like an exclamation point.

2. Stay up to date — on everything. That means having the latest security software, web browser, operating system, etc., which can help guard against viruses, malware and other online threats. Most of these programs can be set to update automatically. Also important: Whenever you update your antivirus software, make sure to run a scan afterward. Installing or updating your antispyware technology is crucial as well. Spyware — as the title suggests — essentially spies on you, and is able to access personal information from your business without you knowing.

3. Pay attention to Wi-Fi. Rename your office network and change the password often, about every five or six months.

“Almost anyone can go online and find software that will automatically break into [the network],” explains Michael Hicks, director of the University of Maryland — College Park’s Cybersecurity Center. Tip: Avoid making the network title your company’s name.

4. Work with your financial institution. Ask your financial institution about protection programs. They may be able to offer a plan that allows you to monitor any suspicious activity that has occurred, like checking payments that you don’t recognize. This can help you prevent any unauthorized transactions before they occur.

5. Back up your data regularly. Sometimes, even when you do everything right, hacking can still occur. Having backup copies of important business data and information ensures that you’ll never have to start from square one. Store extra files (everything from Word documents and spreadsheets to human resource info and financial files) at a location other than your office. To make it easier, set up your files so they get backed up automatically.

6. Educate your employees.
Making sure workers are up to speed on the safest online tactics means less of a chance of a cyber mishap. Also instill the importance of not posting any confidential business-related information on social media platforms they may have, and that they don’t store business-related information on personal hard drives. Your employee’s passwords should also be different from what they use for personal passwords.

 

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