For years, the design of the local bank branch has had the retail friendliness of a Soviet-era shop with its rows of bulletproof windows and roped lines to usher transactions through in the most efficient manner.
If a teller wanted to have a face-to-face conversation — without glass in between — he or she would have to go through security doors akin to the opening credits of “Get Smart.” A private conversation would be like a trip to the principal’s office.
Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank aims to change that with its branch in Windsor.
“We have been banking for so long we don’t even realize how uninviting it is,” conceded Beth Ryan, Exchange Bank’s vice president for retail banking.
The Windsor branch is more like the Apple Store than the old-fashioned Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan Association of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Once you enter, you are greeted by a “universal banker” who can help you with an array of banking services from making a deposit to solving problems with your mobile banking application or opening a credit card. The goal is not to hand the customer from one employee to another for different transactions.
It also features community banking tables, a lounge area, free Wi-Fi, a touchscreen kiosk, a deposit image ATM, and a beverage brewing station with gourmet blend coffee. A kids’ table with electronic tablets is on one side, a relief to working moms. At the rear, an outside patio with wooden benches offers a comfortable and relaxing area to sit and have a conversation — not an interaction — with one of the branch’s nine employees.
Most notable is the “cash bar,” which replaces the teller window and the glass barrier. The 8-foot-long, circular standing desk gets rid of the glass, thanks to a vaulted cash recycler machine that replaces the old cash drawer. One customer recently was able to sidle up next to the banker as he filled out on the computer screen an application for a new debit card, allowing her to better understand the process.
“For the most part customers love it. They love the feeling of us being able to roam free, for them not having a barrier of the teller line. They can access their banker,” said Jamie Koop, customer service manager at the branch.
While the branch overhaul is key to maintaining good customer services, it’s also crucial for independent community banks to survive in a digital banking era where the big four retail banks — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JP Morgan Chase Co. and Citigroup — have an outsized market share given their economies of scale.
Though the United States continues to support far more banks than other countries, the number of commercial banks is dropping. At the end of the second quarter, there were 5,693 banks operating in the U.S., down from 14,400 in 1994, according to research by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.
At the same time, the big four banks are increasing their market share. They had approximately 39 percent of the overall nationwide deposits at the end of 2012, outperforming the rest of the industry in deposit share growth, according to a report last year from McKinsey & Co.