The “Gelt Bus” Brings Banking-On-Wheels To Amish In Lancaster County

That’s one of the interesting things I learned from a recent article in Banking Dive on how banks work with Amish customers. The Bank of Bird-in-Hand has tried to make banking more convenient for its horse-and-buggy customers with an investment in four mobile banks:

“Anytime you have to hitch the horse up and get in the buggy and drive it, it’s a production,” said Lori Maley, CEO of the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania-based community bank, on the transportation method of choice for most Amish, who largely eschew modern technology, such as electricity, automobiles and telephones. “We’ve created this opportunity for the Amish, so they don’t necessarily have to drive into our branch offices. It’s a little bit more convenient for some of them if it’s closer, and we’ve tried to strategically put them where we have customers and shareholders.”

“Gelt” means “money” so this is literally the “money bus”. The bank has spent $1 million on four of the 29-foot-long buses, which look like this:

Image: Bank of Bird-in-Hand

How does it work?

The buses go to 16 locations in the county, Monday through Friday, and serve as an extension of the bank’s three bricks-and-mortar branches. The buses provide ATMs, a walk-up customer-service window and the ability to open accounts and conduct transactions in areas where Amish people live and do business.

There is also a “gelt chappie” aka “money man” for the Amish in the community. That’s the nickname for Bill O’Brien, who is the chief lending officer at the bank. O’Brien had this to say about his customers:

Banking the Amish is a competitive business, said O’Brien, who estimates that 65% to 70% of Bank of Bird-in-Hand’s customers are either Amish or Old Order Mennonites, a religious group with similar values.

“It’s a hard-working market — a people-that-pay-their-bills market,” he said, adding that historically, the Amish are known for their frugality, which translates to few write-offs on loans.

I commented for the article on another reason why Amish make attractive banking customers:

“The community-backed element reinforces the idea of the Amish as attractive customers for some of these banks,” said Wesner, who also runs a website, “In terms of reliability in paying off loans, the community-backed element is almost like a backstop. Even if the individual family loan has issues, there’s a community behind it. The Amish have a culture of mutual aid to begin with.”

This bank, by the way, got headlines in 2013 as the first new US bank opened in three years (the number of banks had shrunk following the 2008-09 financial crisis). The bank had and I assume still has significant Amish founding investment as well.

Photo ID Alternatives

Another interesting aspect – for those Amish who wish to avoid a photo ID, banks find creative ways to verify identity:

For $6 billion-asset Univest, one solution involves bank employees becoming part-time genealogists.

In addition to verifying identity by a Social Security card, birth certificate or IRS form, perhaps Univest’s most unique method of customer identification is through the use of an Amish directory.

And if you were wondering, this is an officially sanctioned way to verify:

“With the book, we can identify who you are, where you live and who your parents were, and we have regulatory approval to be able to properly identify clients using those directories,” he said.

And that’s not the only unorthodox way of doing it:

Laurent Pelletier, vice president and commercial branch manager at M&T Bank, said the regional lender’s four branches in Lancaster County will accept a letter from an Amish bishop confirming the client’s name and personal information such as address and date of birth.

The article also discusses mobile banking, mortgages, how regulators view Amish banking and mutual aid programs, and more.

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    1. Amish Banking

      With the technology available today, I wonder why fingerprint identification isn’t used by banks that serve the Amish.

      1. Good question. I wonder if it has something to do with the comfort level people have with providing their fingerprints? The only time I’ve had to do it was once or twice when traveling internationally.

        1. The Gelt Bus

          Eric, I wonder if it’s just not been thought of so far. If not, maybe someone in the community could mention it. I know that I use a fingerprint to access my phone (and yes, I DO use “THAT” finger! LOL).

          1. I think a lot of banks do use fingerprint for logging in already, so I imagine it is known. Maybe there are legal or tech hurdles to using it. I am not using fingerprint login yet for anything, I think I will be a “late adopter” if at all on that one 😀

    2. Sunflower

      Mobile Bank

      Such an interesting story, Eric! It’s a great idea! I wish my bank would do this. Next time I go I’m going to tell them about this bank. Also nice they have an alternative way to identify their Amish customers. I’ve run into problems a few times because around here everyone wants two government issued picture IDs. All I have is a drivers license. I never understand this.

      1. The buses do seem like a great idea. NPR did a closer look at these in 2018, when there was just 1 of them. There’s another view of one at this link, where you can see the ATM in the side:

      2. Raven

        …Now that does not make any sense. So you indeed DO have a “government-issued photo ID”, you have literally just said that you have one. However, of course, it is impossible for any human being to have one, that is the reason why this discrimination against human beings is not legal nor acceptable .