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The bank branch of the future is coming, with coffee bars, cozy nooks … and no teller windows

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHICAGO -- The branch bank of the future is coming, and your friendly neighborhood teller may be history.

With transactions migrating online, customer traffic down and once-bustling branches closing their doors, major banks including Fifth Third, Chase and Capital One are racing to create cozier, millennial-friendly spaces offering financial advice, technical support and in some cases, cappuccino.

Say goodbye to pens on chains and even teller windows, as banks shrink their retail footprint and shift their focus away from once-essential functions such as cashing checks and taking deposits.

"The teller line will disappear over the next few years and all transactions will become self-serve," said Kevin Steele, a senior retail banking consultant with Kronos, a leading workforce management company.

The financial technology revolution has taken a toll on the traditional banking model, with upstart online competitors and digital transactions turning many branches into veritable museums. Banks have shed more than 10,000 branches across the U.S. over the past decade.

Creating a smaller, more relevant bricks-and-mortar experience is an imperative for many banks, which are looking to cut real estate and staffing costs, while maintaining a physical presence to give an increasingly digital-first customer base a reason to visit.

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Fifth Third Bank, which is closing 44 Chicago-area branches in the wake of its merger with MB Financial, is planning to open a "next generation" flagship branch in Willis Tower next week. Half the size of a traditional branch, the Apple Store-esque space will feature a "transaction bar," comfy couches, meeting nooks and bankers roaming around with tablets.

"You're going to be greeted, but there's no teller," said Greg Carmichael, president and CEO of Fifth Third. "To have a person there waiting to do one of those transactions is not cost-effective."

At Fifth Third, foot traffic is down 30% over the last five years, Carmichael said.

The number of bank locations in the U.S. peaked at 99,550 during 2009--the end of the Great Recession--and have declined annually to 88,070 branches last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In Illinois, the number of bank branches dropped from 4,989 to 4,306 during the same period, a nearly 14% decline.


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