Bank branches continue to morph into cafes

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When it comes to bank branches, we're always in a middle of a revolution.

People are always pledging to do away with the traditional branch offices and replace them with something sleek and modern. Recall that Commerce Bank, led once upon a time by Vernon Hill, was a leader in a movement to recreate branches in the image of more inviting and convenient retail stores.

Leadership of the transform-the-branch movement has since shifted to Umpqua. With just 150 branches, it has emerged as trend-setter in reimaging the bank branch as place that someone would want to spend time at, even if they are not strictly banking. Internet access figures prominently in the plans. More banks are moving in this direction, inspired by the likes of Apple and Starbucks.

Capital One, for example, plans to open at least six branch offices in the Boston area starting next year. They will not be traditional branches, notes Boston.com.

"Instead, they'll be sleek marketing offices, called 'cafes,'  that will serve up coffee and other amenities. If they are anything like cafes in other cities, they will include free wireless Internet access, flat-screen televisions, and comfy furniture for hanging out…Capital One's cafes, already operating in eight cities, don't have tellers to handle deposits and withdrawals, bankers to handle loans, or safe-deposit boxes to store valuables. They're designed to introduce consumers to its online bank."

Citigroup has been experimenting with this approach in Singapore, and may migrate the experience to the U.S. at some point. Lots of banks are pondering this movement.

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