Online Shopping Safety Tips for the Holidays

  • 25 Nov 2019
  • Posted by dgriffitts

Year after year, it seems like more shoppers are opting to do their holiday gift buying online. And it makes sense—why fight the crowds when you can shop from the comfort of your own couch? Technology has made online shopping a breeze, but it doesn’t come without risks. Here are a few simple tips and tricks to protect yourself and shop safely this season.

  • Use strong passwords
    • You know that one password you’ve been using for years and just changing the last few numbers? Yeah, it’s time to create a new one. We know you’ve heard this advice before, but trust us, using strong and unique passwords is a simple way to add a layer of protection to all of your accounts.  
  • Do not give out sensitive personal information
    • Legit retailers will never ask for your social security number. Trust your gut with this one; if you’re being asked to provide personal details that you’re not comfortable giving—don’t.
  • Avoid making purchases while using free/public Wi-Fi
    • Remember what we said earlier about shopping from the comfort of your own home? Try to stick to that. Or, at least shop on a secure network. The risk of data interception is much higher when you’re on public Wi-Fi, such as at an airport, coffee shop or library.
  • Pay for purchases with a credit card when possible
    • Plain and simple: you have better liability protection when paying with a credit card.
    • Bonus tip: it’s best to avoid saving your payment information within online accounts. Sure, storing it is super convenient for the next time you log in to make a purchase, but it also makes your personal data vulnerable to identity thieves and hackers.
  • Ship merchandise to a secure location
    • Beware of porch pirates! If you won’t be home during delivery, try finding an alternative location that’s safe and secure. Depending on the retailer, you may be able to get your package delivered directly to the store for pick-up, or at one of their shipping lockers.
  • After purchasing, monitor your accounts closely
    • Online and mobile banking are great tools that can be used to monitor your account activity in a safe and convenient way. You may also be able to set-up customized alerts. So, if your account falls below a certain balance or an external transfer is made, you’ll be notified right away.
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National Entrepreneur's Day: A Q&A with Howard Bank's CEO, Mary Ann Scully

  • 18 Nov 2019
  • Posted by Mary Ann Scully

Mary Ann Scully

Q1: What made you decide to start a bank?
A:
The decision to start a bank was in part opportunistic. I had chosen to leave a larger bank upon consolidation and had become firmly committed to the need for a local business focused bank to provide family-owned businesses in the region with a committed and experienced alternative to the growing number of financial institutions neither commercially focused nor headquartered close to their clients. Like all entrepreneurs, I combined a passion with a purpose at the time of a competitive opening in a market.

Q2: What was the hardest thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?  
A: My hardest experience as an entrepreneur was starting with nothing – no capital, no clients, no locations. It is a rush of reality that all formerly successful entrepreneurs inside a larger company experience when they leave that nest. It is a time of great uncertainty and significant risk. Asking others to join you on that early journey is an awesome responsibility.

Q3: What was the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
A: The list is too long, but all the rewards for me revolve around three things: Creation - of the names, logos, products, and teams; Impact - making a difference for employees, customers, communities, and investors; Relevance - achieving sustainability.

Q4: What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?
A: The best piece of advice I ever received was to go for it - believe. The worst piece of advice (which I did not take) was to lead with emotion rather than hard facts.

Q5: Looking back, what would you have changed on your road to success?
A: While my journey through entrepreneurship has brought many successes, it also had painful moments and failures. I am a firm believer that our path forward is completely dependent on the setbacks and failures. They allow us to be better risk-takers. They provide us with a roadmap of how to be better in general. And they make us much more empathetic along the way.

Q6: Why are entrepreneurs so important to our city/community?
A: Entrepreneurs are a major source of new ideas, whether that be products or delivery models; they are job-creators and seek out similarly innovative thinkers. They show the path to managing risk vs. reward at an exponential level. And because they are often so dependent on specific local or virtual communities, they focus on enriching those communities that are their lifeblood. They are sincerely invaluable.

Q7: Who are the types of individuals that should make up an entrepreneur’s sounding board?
A: It truly takes a village to sustainably launch a successful new business. In addition to traditional advisors, you need trustworthy accountants, attorneys, technology platforms. Every successful entrepreneur needs some devil’s advocates too; those who will honestly tell you what may not work so that you really can fix it even if it is not yet broken because at the end of the day, that’s what distinguishes entrepreneurs - they fix it even if it is NOT broken.

Q8: What advice would you give an upcoming entrepreneur today? Are there things a Baltimore entrepreneur should leverage that entrepreneurs in other markets don’t have the opportunity to leverage?
A: My best piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to leverage your connections. Baltimore is intensely relationship-oriented, from neighborhoods to school associations to grassroots organizations. Those relationships form the best kind of networks for capital raising, awareness raining, client introductions, advisory sounding boards. They provide a stronger basis of trust. This relationship orientation is one of the primary reasons why we initially looked north to Baltimore when we started Howard Bank.

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Three Reasons Every Merchant Needs Chip Card Readers

  • 14 Dec 2016
  • Posted by estarr

3 Reasons Every Merchant Needs Chip Card ReasersAt the supermarket recently, I had the opportunity to chat with the manager. I noticed that the store, part of a regional chain with a huge corporate owner, had not yet installed readers for the increasingly ubiquitous chip-cards, so I asked him why not.                          

After all, chip cards are meant to protect consumers from fraud. And there’s plenty of evidence that they’re working as intended.

The manager’s response surprised me. He told me the chain wasn’t worried about the cost of upgrading, but about the prospect of losing business. He explained that transactions take longer with chip card readers. And he worried they’d lose customers if they force people to do that.

My view is that they’re much more likely to lose customers if they don’t upgrade (more on that in a moment), but the store is far from alone. According to the business management consultants at the Strawhecker Group, only about 29 percent of American merchants were ready for chip cards — also known as EMV cards, which stands for Europay, MasterCard®, and Visa® — as of September.  

That’s disappointing. Chip cards are our best defense against card fraud. According to the trade newsletter The Nilson Report, U.S. card losses for banks and retailers reached $8.4 billion in 2015. And that number is expected to reach $12 billion by 2020.  

That’s why a consortium of card issuers, banks, and others developed the EMV standard for cards and readers. These chip-enabled cards, which customers “dip” instead of “swipe,” provide greater security from fraud. That’s because swipe cards create a record that crooks can grab and use to make purchases. “Dipped” cards, on the other hand, create a one-time code that can’t be reused. 

Europe has been using this technology for a while now, but it really got going in the United States last year. So far, banks have issued about 600 million chip cards to U.S. consumers, according to the U.S. Payments Forum. And starting Oct. 1, 2015, the liability for card fraud at most merchants without chip-card readers shifted from the card’s issuer to the retailers. And many more U.S. merchants will start accepting chip cards by October 2017, when gas stations will start facing those same liabilities. 

However, many retailers still resist purchasing the upgraded reader. That’s why I want to share with you three reasons why just about every merchant should be chip card-ready: 

1. Peace of mind for you.

A store clerk recently told me that she didn’t understand the “hassle” behind chip cards. So I put my banker hat on and explained that the chip-card machine takes the liability off the merchant (her boss) and puts it on Visa® and MasterCard® if there is fraud. It’s as simple as that.

For those merchants who say, “I never had fraud before,” well, how do you know that? MasterCard® and Visa® were taking it on the nose for you before. They’re not doing that anymore. So if you’re a merchant that hasn’t installed the new card readers, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s an easy, inexpensive upgrade that will protect you financially.

2. Peace of mind for your customers.

Your customers know that card fraud is happening. They’re seeing odd charges pop up on their credit card statements — and then spending hours on the phone cleaning those messes up. Chip cards reduce the likelihood of fraud significantly — and your customers are learning this.

You don’t want them to be afraid to use their credit cards in your store. So, being up to date on your POS technology will give them peace of mind as well. You’ll gain their trust.

3. You'll gain an advantage over your competitors.

Staying on top of chip card equipment now means you’ll be more comfortable with the next rounds of payments technology — including chip-and-PIN cards (which allow customers to input a number instead of signing), “tap” cards (which allow them to simply tap their card against the reader), and mobile payments. The more forms of technology you’re familiar with and ready for, the more potential customers you’ll have. And that translates into more dollars coming in.

The Smart Choice

Card fraud rates are already down thanks to EMV. According to Visa®, chip card-friendly merchants recorded a 47 percent drop in card fraud from May 2015 to May 2016. That shows why every merchant should be installing EMV technology if they haven’t already. Your customers will soon be expecting it — and may choose to patronize someone else if you don’t have it.

Most community banks, including 1st Mariner Bank, provide merchant processing services. That means they can get you access to industry-leading chip card POS equipment and solutions. To set a retailer up to take EMV cards, we gather information, fill out applications, get everything through the approval process and order and install equipment. And if our equipment doesn’t fit your budget, we can even help you find better deals.

If you’re ready to get started, or for more information, just contact our business banking services department.

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Vetting a New Bank for Your Business? Ask These 4 Questions

  • 16 Sep 2016
  • Posted by estarr

I have a friend who researches everything to the Nth degree. He dives deep and never lets a penny get by him. You probably have a friend just like him. (If you’re smart, you are him.)                         

We were talking recently about his relationship with his bank. And when I asked him what questions he asks whenever he’s vetting a new bank, his answer intrigued me.

His most important query wasn’t about the bank’s services or its lending process. “Those are questions I ask, of course,” he said. “But really, here’s what I want to know: Am I going to be able to get in touch with you? And how do I get in touch with you? Do I get your phone number and email, or do I have to make my way through a phone tree?”

I got what he was saying. He was asking about what kind of relationship he could expect to have with his bank. Would it be hands-off or collaborative? Would he work with an individual, a team, or a machine. 
 
And so, in the spirit of my friend’s questions, we’ve put together this list of Top Questions to Ask Your Banker. You’ve checked the bank’s interest rates and branch locations, and you likely are ready with some inquiries specific to your situation – but these are four questions you should always ask.

“What will our relationship be like if I bank here?”

As my friend’s passion demonstrated, he thinks it’s essential to have an advocate at your bank. If you agree, make sure you’ll be assigned a relationship manager, and clarify how they’ll handle your business. Will you meet regularly at the bank or at your business? Will you be able to get your relationship manager on the phone quickly?

Your advocate can guide you through the loan process. They can let you know about important new products and answer questions about them. They’ll give you news about the bank before you hear about it on social media or the evening news.

Nail down how easy it is to get in touch when you need to – and typical response time to such queries. Be assured that your phone calls and emails will be answered quickly.                              

Plus, that relationship shouldn't end at the bank itself. Community banks can help you connect with the local business circle. Those sorts of connections can lead to customers, advisors, contractors, and even other lending options.

Finally, don’t just take the bank’s answer to these questions for granted. Seek out your peers and grill them about their relationships with their banks. Let that lead you to a great choice.

What Is Your Lending Process for Businesses Like Mine?

It’s tough to get a loan. Community banks are approving only about half of their loan requests. Big banks are even more daunting; they approve just 21 percent. So before applying, you want to know that the process is simple and straightforward. If it’s not – if the banks starts obfuscating before you even submit an application – walk on. Here are three things you should determine before you get started …

  • Does your company qualify for the loans this bank offers? Many banks won’t loan to businesses under a certain size, or that have less than a three-year track record, or that are seeking a loan of less than $5,000.
     
  • What is the lending process? What financial records and tax records are required? Will there be interviews, and to whom will you speak? Is the decision made locally?
     
  • What’s the timeline? How long does the approval process take after you apply?

Most importantly, find out whether you will have an opportunity to sit down with bank representatives before you kick off the loan process. This is yet another chance to build a relationship and pick up advocates who can guide you through the lending process.

What Is the Financial Strength of the Bank?

Do some homework before sitting down with a bank representative. First off, don’t even think of approaching a financial institution not insured by the FDIC. Additionally, look at the bank’s ratio of non-current loans to total loans (if it’s above 10 percent, walk away), deposit growth, available cash, and “record” with the FDIC.

Then, when you get in the room with a bank rep, get a feeling for the overall health of the bank. You want to hear – with confidence – that the bank is doing very, very well, that it’s well capitalized, that it’s lending lots of money. Listen for buts. 

What Are the Banking Services I Need Right Now? What Will I Need in the Future?

Have a list of what services you think you need: easy online access, anti-check fraud services, wire transfers, credit lines that cover cash shortfalls, etc. If you’re not sure what you need, then just be ready to discuss your business; a good banking relationship manager should be able to connect you to the right services for you. Also, ask how the bank charges its business customers: Is it à la carte or a full menu?

As for the services you’ll need in the future, your representative should be able to make some predictions but the answer mainly depends on how your business evolves. The important thing here is to start building a relationship. You want to bank with someone who’ll let you know what you need to add – and what you can drop – as your business grows. They’ll also alert you to new services the bank is offering.

Finally, keep an eye on this during the vetting process. If the bank asks you what services you’re currently paying for and, critically, whether you’re using them, that’s a good sign. This is our chance to save you money. If the bank you’re assessing is smart, they’ll want to do just that.

If you have any further questions – or if you want to get started your vetting process – get in touch. 

The best geek prank collection can be found at GeekPrank.com. Play with the Windows simulator, the fake upgrade screens, the fake disk formatter and other pranks.

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The 5 Must-Haves For Selecting a Commercial Banking Partner

  • 21 Apr 2016
  • Posted by estarr

There’s much at stake when it comes to choosing a good bank for your business. More than just a payment processor and cash depository, an excellent bank is a business partner. Your banker should be a key advisor on everything from setting up bookkeeping to deciding whether to open up more locations; a “seal of approval” to potential customers and vendors; and even a gateway, opening doors to your community’s business circle and providing key introductions.            
     
That’s why we’ve put together these five tips you can use to find a bank that best fits your business.

1. Know Your Needs

Start with the basics: Identify what kind of checking and savings accounts you’ll need. Consider the number of transactions you’ll make per month and the lowest amounts you’ll keep in those accounts. If you plan on doing online business, do you want a separate merchant account for that? The types of business accounts banks offer – and how much they charge – vary widely.

Also consider if you’re going to need loans, whether you need local branches (do you have to make cash drop-offs?), and if you have online/mobile banking needs.             

2. Consider the Relationship

Whatever size your business is today, you’ll likely need advice and face-to-face interactions from your bankers as you grow.

If your bank is truly a partner, then you’ll want a partner who knows you. So ask some questions: Where are lending decisions being made, and by whom? Will you have an opportunity to meet with the person making the decision, or will decisions be made by a central authority in another city?

Can you speak with your banker when you need to, or will your questions by some call center? It’s easy for a bank to be there for you when business is good, but who will be there if things go cold for a while and you need advice about, say, smart ways to cut costs? Will your banker return your call? Will he or she know how to help you?

3. Consider Your Options       

Generally, you have four options: big banks, local banks, Internet banks, and credit unions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

National banks have lots of locations solid online services. However, they’re often disconnected from the communities they serve, won’t always make time for small or even mid-sized customers, and can be tight with their lending practices, especially during economic downturns.

Credit unions, on the other hand, are deeply connected to their communities and, because they are nonprofit, usually offer lower fees. However, they cannot always lend to small businesses and sometimes lack robust online features and mobile services.

Community banks account for 50 percent of all small-business lending, even though they control just 18% of all U.S. bank assests. That's becuase they gnerally offer the best and most face-to-face interaction, and they generally work hard to cultivate relationships with local businesses. Ineed, they can sometimes be your connection to local customers and vendors.       

4. Talk to Everyone                                          

Talk to your business peers and personal bank to get an idea of which business banks offer the best services and have the best reputations. If you can, get referrals to the banks at the top of your list. Referred customers are usually worth more and are more dependable. So they may be more likely to offer you better service and lower loan rates.

When you make on-site visits, look at the banker, not the bank. This is who you'll be working with. Again, you want a business partner, not a salesperson. Go in with a list of questions – and be ready to answer the banker’s questions. Consider this a two-way interview. Your relationship with your bank is a longtime collaboration, not a one-time transaction.

A great banker will introduce you to prospective clients and vendors; help you set up your accounts payable and receivable operations; and perhaps one day aid in your search for a controller or CFO. Can you see the person sitting across from you doing all that?

5. Reevaluate Regularly

Once you've chosen a bank, start building a relationship immediately. A solid collaboration leads to more likely loans at more favorable terms. It also leads to those critical ties to the local business community.

But don’t get too comfortable with your bank. As your business grows, a different bank may serve you better, so make a point to review at least annually whether your current bank continues to serve all of your needs.

When you do that review, ask yourself: When was the last conversation with my bank? What was it about, and who initiated it? When I call my bank with a question, do they call me back? How quickly? Do I actually like my banker?

According to a 2013 poll by Gallup, 32% of businesses were "actively antagonistic"  toward their bank. You don’t want to find yourself there.

A great bank is a rare and precious resource. So take time and effort to make this important choice. And to set up a conversation with one of our Commercial Relationship Managers, just reach out. 

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