touch-screen device. That not only alerts employees to assist, but also triggers
targeted messages on television screens around the office for that customer.
The technology is designed to make the experience easier for customers and help the branch run more efficiently.
Financial Partners also opted to do away with vaults in its new branches. Since many transactions now are handled electronically and customers can simply go to an ATM for cash, the credit union keeps virtually no cash in its smart branches. That allows the credit union to save money on security systems and open locations in smaller, non-traditional spaces such as strip mall storefronts.
"In the old days, the reason a bank was a bank was that it had a vault," said Moghaddam, Financial Partners' chief executive. "Nowadays you really don't have the paper flow. All of that is changing the nature of the branch structure."
He said opening a traditional branch runs about $1 million, but launching a smart branch costs one-third of that. With the success of the first smart branch, the credit union plans to open another location.
Similar to Financial Partners' new branches, Wells Fargo recently launched its "neighborhood bank" store format, which features smaller spaces -- about 1,000 square feet compared with 4,000 square feet for a traditional branch -- and an open floor plan. Employees are outfitted with tablets, and the branch offers customers free Wi-Fi access. The paperless branches include advanced ATMs with larger screens, more features and the ability to dispense bills in denominations of $1, $5, $20 or $100.
Wells Fargo opened its first neighborhood bank in Washington, D.C., in April. Spokeswoman Lisa Woolery said the bank is considering bringing the concept to the Orange County market.
Not every bank is looking to streamline and shrink its branches, though.
A number of banks have begun experimenting with adding elements such as coffee bars and lounge areas. Umpqua Bank in Portland, Ore., has gone even further, using its branches to host yoga classes, book readings and even an Oktoberfest-style event replete with pretzels and beer.
Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting, noted that transaction volumes in brick-and-mortar branches have been declining for years, making it more difficult for banks to turn a profit. He estimated that only about 20 percent of branches are profitable today, which has prompted a contraction in the number of offices.
"Banks are looking at these statistics. That is driving them to rethink the branch," he said. "Some banks are really creating statement branches."
Wendel pointed to City National, the Southern California bank that this year opened its first ground-floor branch in Manhattan. To give the branch an upscale feel, the bank hired Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architecture firm known for designing a number of Apple stores.
Harry Topping, a senior vice president of City National and the manager of corporate real estate, said the bank wanted to "do something really special." Opened last month, the 13,000-square-foot space features an open design, a French limestone wall and a cantilevered glass-and-stone staircase.
"It's very light, bright, airy," Topping said, "like an Apple store."
Beyond the aesthetics, City National also changed the way the branch operates. The bank did away with teller lines and appointed "universal bankers" -- experienced employees who can help with a wider variety of transactions.
The bankers are equipped with touch-screen tablets, which allow them to assist customers virtually anywhere, even in offices outside the branch.
Topping said the bank is considering bringing elements of its new branches back to Southern California.
Among them, the bank will likely begin doing away with teller lines in favor of universal bankers.
Erich Klein, a senior vice president for City National, said with so many customers doing their banking online or via mobile devices, branches must be able to draw in customers and give them an experience that far surpasses that of a website.
"The client experience in the office has to be exceptional and comprehensive," he said.
Contact the writer: 714-796-7922 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Most Popular Stories
- Twitter Coming to Phones Without Internet
- NASA Fellowships, Scholarships Bring Diversity to Workforce
- Dish Network Leads 2013 Top 50 Advertisers List
- Entravision Initiates Quarterly Cash Dividend
- Networks Vie for U.S. Hispanic TV Viewers
- Ad Counts Rise in 2013 for Hispanic Magazines
- Warner Bros. Unleashes 'Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug' Merchandise
- Shanghai Smog Forces Factory Shutdowns
- How to Arm Yourself Against CryptoLocker Virus
- Amanda Bynes Enrolls in California's FIDM