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At a glance
Banks big and small are redesigning their branches. Here are a few of the features that are showing up:
•“Instant Issue” machines: They can print debit and credit cards immediately, so customers don’t have to wait a week for them to show up in the mail.
•High-end ATMs: Banks are introducing ATMs with expanded features, including the ability to distribute coins and $5 and $1 bills.
•Video access to tellers: Bank of America is introducing ATMs that let customers connect by video to off-site tellers. Citigroup, in the atrium of its flagship New York branch, has a video line that connects to an off-site teller 24/7.
•Teller cash recycler: These machines count cash so tellers don’t have to. They can accept and dispense money.
•Cardless access: JPMorgan says it is preparing to let customers sign on to ATMs with a tap of their smartphones, no card needed.
•Going paperless: More banks are using tablet computers instead of paper when branch customers sign up for loans or other products.
Associated Press photos
Customers use self-service banking kiosks at a JPMorgan Chase lobby in New York. Banks are touting branches where machines count cash so tellers don’t have to.

Banks build branches with eye on the future

A customer does banking using a monitor to connect by video to an off-site teller in Seoul, South Korea.

– In an age when checks can be deposited by smartphone and almost everyone retrieves cash from ATMs, the corner bank can seem a relic, with its paper deposit slips, marble countertops and human tellers behind glass partitions.

But some banking executives say the brick-and-mortar branch is still the best way to serve existing customers and snag new ones. They’re trying to rebuild the nation’s neighborhood banks into hip, airy spaces where customers sign up for loans without touching a piece of paper, sign in to ATMs with a tap of their smartphones and talk to off-site tellers by video.

Flashiness is only part of the reason for the makeovers. Mounting costs from legal fees and new regulations – vestiges of the financial crisis – have given the banks good reason to become more efficient. The new branches will help them replace expensive human workers with cheaper machines, a development that could eventually make the bank teller an endangered species.

Most redesigns aim to let customers complete simple transactions, such as deposits, for themselves. That frees bank employees for tasks that make money, such as persuading someone to put money into a mutual fund or refinance a mortgage.

“Banks have been talking about ‘branch of the future’ for more than a decade,” said Bob Meara, a senior banking analyst at Celent. “And almost nobody has been doing anything until the past couple years.”

Banks large and small are on board. In a Celent survey in June, 55 percent of banks said they were planning significant changes to their branches, up from 24 percent two years earlier.

At an investor conference in February, JPMorgan Chase executives touted their new branches as places where ATMs distribute exact change, machines count cash so tellers don’t have to and open floor plans evoke the atmosphere of an Apple store or boutique hotel, features that other banks are also embracing.

Still, there are perils in overhauling an institution as familiar as the bank branch. It can be expensive. And if changes are too extreme, customers get annoyed.

“To be honest,” said Mike Weinbach, JPMorgan’s head of sales for consumer banking, “we don’t know if we have it right.”

“I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the future of banking’s going to look like,” he added. He declined to say how much JPMorgan is spending on its new branches.

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