Bank One Adopts New Look Feel

November 14, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Bank One is busy building a new paradigm in retail banking.

Over the next two and a half years, the interiors of all 1,800 Bank One branches in 14 states will be reconfigured and revamped into something that looks and feels more like a top-end retailer than a bank.

Traditional teller lines are on their way out. In their place will be “teller towers.”

And for many Bank One branches, “banker’s hours” will become a thing of the past.

In West Michigan, the changes will start rolling out in the second and third quarters of next year.

A model of the company’s new retail configuration will be unveiled Dec. 10, with the opening of a new branch at Knapp Street and East Beltline Avenue.

The new branch will feature “free and open” teller towers consisting of a waist-high workstation at which two tellers work on either side.

“Literally, the customer could walk around and stand next to the teller. There will be nothing between the customer and the teller,” said Carl McWherter, first vice president and retail market manager for Bank One’s West Michigan and northern Michigan markets.

But rather than traditional cash drawers, under the new model tellers use cash dispensers that serve as cash vaults.

Since tellers don’t actually have any cash “on them,” it reduces risks from a security perspective, said Ruth Vis, vice president of public affairs.

For example, when a customer cashes a check, the teller asks what denominations are preferred, keys in the information and the dispenser shoots the cash out to the teller, who then counts it and gives it to the customer.

When making a deposit, a customer drops the deposit through a slot in the dispenser and it goes to a secure area, McWherter noted.

So it’s similar to an ATM transaction, but with one-on-one personal interaction.

“We look at the branch these days as a delivery site. One of the ways to deliver is through live people,” he said. “We find it’s very important for us to meet our customers and get to know them and make sure we’re having conversations with them to find out if they have any needs.”

Tellers are the key contact points for about 90 percent of the bank’s customers, he stressed.

He said what Bank One is trying to do is open up the lobby to make it more retail friendly, so that tellers can literally walk out and greet customers at the door. The desired affect is that of “a more concierge-type environment.”

“The customers have voted. They would like to meet with people, they would like to have contact, and they’d like to have a relationship in their branch so there’s always someone they can call if they have any questions.”

He said that since July 1 the company has hired about 50 additional staff people, many of them relationship bankers who serve as a single point of contact for customers.

The majority of new hires serve the Grand Rapids and Lakeshore markets. Another 50 will be hired next year.

“We’ve always been a relationship bank, but we’re really trying to live up to that model even more than we’ve done in the past. We want people who want to help people,” McWherter said. “Our relationship managers will be out in the lobby and they’ll be on the phones contacting our customers so that we can touch everybody at least twice a year.”

Bank One tested out the model in a number of markets during the year.

“We think we’ve got what people want,” McWherter added.

The new branch at Knapp and East Beltline will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday though Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Likewise, hours have already begun to change at a couple Bank One branches in the area, Vis said.

In August, for instance, the 200 Ottawa Ave. NW branch began opening at 7:30 a.m. to serve early morning customers working in the downtown area, she said.

Extended hours, however, aren’t planned for every branch in every market.

“We’re going to make a decision based on what local market each branch is in,” McWherter said. He manages 50 retail-banking centers and is overseeing implementation of the company’s new retail model.

“We’re going to let our banking center managers and district managers, together, figure out what kind of market they are in.”

Managers will determine whether they are in an early morning market, a late evening market, or a weekend market in terms of the operating hours that would best serve existing customers’ needs.

On top of that, the bank is ramping up efforts to meet with clients anytime, anywhere, he said.

“We’ll hold a branch open longer, we’ll meet at their homes, we’ll meet at their business. We’ve always kind of done that on an individual basis,” McWherter said.

“But what we’re really starting to realize is that there are a lot of people who have those kinds of needs to meet at different times. We’re not taking ads out in the paper to say that, but we’re working with every customer individually to let them know we’re there for them.”

One component of Bank One’s new retail approach materialized this summer with the introduction of business casual look-alike clothing for all employees — from tellers, to loan officers to branch managers.

All 21,000 Bank One employees are adopting a uniform look under a new policy that requires them to wear selected business casual attire at work, on customer calls and at sales events.

The bank’s 450 West Michigan employees have been donning the new blue, black and white apparel pieces since August. The attire, by Land’s End, is being phased in through the end of the year as employees’ orders are filled.

The uniform apparel is intended to make staff more easily identifiable and to contribute to a consistent customer experience, according to the bank.

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