Blending tech with the human touch at TrailWest

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the fall of 2020, Newsweek magazine pointed its lens at the banking industry to assess the product-and-service offerings at America’s banks. Partnering with LendingTree, the magazine analyzed a host of metrics — from account offering to fee structures, from the frequency of consumer complaints to the bank’s responsiveness, from the availability of digital offerings to their ease of use — in order to identify stand-out institutions that people might want to consider doing business with. BankBeat isolated the Best Small Banks in our readership area, and reached out to the smallest ones to learn the story behind the metrics. Previously, we covered First Security Bank, Lincoln, Neb.


When Rich Zins, president of TrailWest Bank, Lolo, received an email congratulating him on receiving the “Best Small Bank” designation from Newsweek magazine, “I was expecting it to come with a solicitation as many of these types of things do. I was quite pleased to learn that the designation was legitimate.”

Leadership of the family-owned bank that serves western Montana viewed the designation as confirmation that they “continue to be headed down the right path” in how they deliver banking services. 

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the bank had set in place digital and touchless banking options, such as interactive teller machines, chat, mobile deposit and digital wallets. Use of these tools “practically exploded” when the bank had to close its lobby in 2020.

The bank “prides itself” on being nimble, flexible and quick to adapt, said Holli Paugh, vice president. “We are in a very competitive market, with numerous banks and credit unions fighting for their piece of the pie,” Paugh said. The bank stays competitive through a blend of one-on-one service and robust technology.

The bank introduced its first two ITMs in 2019 when one of the grocery stores where it had a branch went through a complete remodel. It wasn’t enough to just introduce the technology. TrailWest wanted to make its ITMs distinctive. “Every bank can offer an ITM,” Paugh said. “Only TrailWest would have LIVE!” 

LIVE! is the branding strategy for the ITMs; the acronym stands for Local Interactive Video Experts. In anticipation of customer apprehension with the technology, “LIVE! was a way to get the message to our loyal customers that they would still be interacting with our great staff located right here in western Montana,” Paugh explained. “By offering LIVE!, we are able to serve them with extended and weekend hours, helping them to bank when it is best for their unique schedule.”

TrailWest had been using chat technology on its website for five years, but early in 2021, it implemented Glia, which offers a blend of chat, video and audio technology. “We understand that navigating technology is not always easy, and nothing is more frustrating than calling an automated support line,” Paugh explained. “For that reason, TrailWest works hard to maintain a human touch…

“Glia offers customers a bridge between digital banking and personalized customer service,” Paugh said. 

The bank put traction behind the marketing opportunity presented by the recognition. The bank used Facebook and its website to get word out to customers who “have been eager to spread the word that they bank at the best bank in Montana,” Paugh said.