Don’t throw away the key!

Safe deposit boxes are falling out of favor, but I want to encourage bankers reading this to continue to offer them. I read there are some 25 million safe deposit boxes across the country, but increasingly banks are discontinuing them, declining to rent boxes to new customers and phasing them out as they reduce their branch count or remodel their offices.

If you work in the lobby of a bank, especially one of those big, impersonal banks, you’ve seen walk-in business dwindle to a trickle. The emphasis on digital delivery of services has been detrimental to in-person banking. Pretty tough to sell safe deposit boxes to people who don’t come into the bank any more. 

But that doesn’t mean the need for safe deposit boxes has gone away. People still have valuable papers and items they want to lock away. If you want to give grandpa’s watch to your own grandkid someday, there’s no better place to store such a valuable item than a safe deposit box at a bank. You might be able to take a picture of a check to make a deposit through your cell phone, but you can’t do anything like that if you are trying to preserve a family heirloom. 

Personally, I find there is something comforting about a good, old-fashioned key. I like a key so much more than a password, which I am likely to forget or otherwise compromise by writing it down in an obvious place like under my keyboard. A hacker has a much better chance of getting into one of my online accounts than a malcontent has of getting at my safe deposit box contents. 

To my mind, the beauty of a safe deposit box is that it suggests that some things are actually worth locking up. In a disposable world where everything is replaceable, where nothing is meant to last, why take extra steps to preserve anything? Well, the reality is, everything is not replaceable and some things are worth preserving. My safe deposit box, for example, contains, among other things, a manuscript that means something to me. No real dollar value there, but priceless, (at least to me) nonetheless. 

If volume is the goal of your business model, then safe deposit boxes probably don’t make sense. But if you seek to serve a relatively defined community with unique, high-touch products, then safe deposit boxes continue to make a lot of sense.