The halcyon days of yesteryear, when bankers worked from 9am to 3pm five days a week, are quickly becoming nostalgic relics, as the financial services industry joins the kinetic pace of mass-market retail and competition for the hearts and wallets of banking consumers intensifies, writes Charles Davis.
As US banks seek every potential advantage in the hyperactive suburban and exurban markets ringing population centres across the nation, opening bank branches on Saturdays and Sundays is becoming the norm, as are extended evening opening hours during the week.
It seems like only yesterday that banking experts were writing off the branch altogether, as the online channel promised any time banking without the headaches of staffing bricks-and-mortar locations during the weekend. Today, retail bankers in the US have work schedules resembling their counter-parts in the retail sector, restaurateurs and other seven-day-a-week workers.
The non-traditional working week is all part of the never-ending quest to attract upscale households, many with two wage-earners who often find it difficult to get to a bank to complete mundane tasks such as making deposits, opening accounts or using a safe deposit box. In many fast-growing urban markets, where commutes to work of more than an hour are commonplace, the 9-to-3 bank is a thing of the past.
Seven-day-a-week banking is more evidence of the rekindled love affair between US consumers and bank branches.
Branch preference by age A recent survey by the American Bankers Association found that more than one-third of consumers preferred banking at branches. Among customers aged over 55, nearly one-half preferred banking at a branch compared with using ATMs or other forms of remote banking. However, of customers under 34, just 25 percent preferred branches.
To address that generation gap, branches have evolved in design, becoming more family- friendly, airy and inviting. Addressing the service hours was only a matter of time. The trend began more than a decade ago, when US banks with locations in supermarkets or other retail outlets were among the first to extend hours. Saturday banking followed, in a handful of banks across the country, but now more banks are recognising that they need to open for longer hours to meet the needs of busy consumers.
Retail banking pioneer Commerce Bank in New Jersey began opening branches on Sundays in 1994 and now has Sunday hours throughout its branch network. Its seven-day-a-week service, cherry lollipops and Penny Arcade – the bank’s free coin-counting machine – are as much a part of Commerce culture as Red Friday when employees don crimson ties, jackets and dresses.
No one knows what changes are in store when Commerce becomes part of Toronto-based TD Bank Financial Group next spring, but it’s safe to say that TD won’t mess with the Saturday and Sunday hours. They are a major reason customers give for their intense loyalty to the bank, which has set the standard for emulating the look and feel of mass-market retailers.
Commerce founder Vernon Hill had already built a chain of 41 Burger King franchises before he launched the Cherry Hill-based bank in 1973, with a pledge to bring the retail mantra of customer service to the stodgy world of banking. He succeeded to the tune of 460 branches, almost all of which are open at weekends.
Other banks were quick to follow. Wachovia’s 344 branches in New Jersey are generally open from 9am to 5pm. Most are open Saturdays and some have extended hours if market conditions warrant, a spokesman said.
North-eastern regional bank PNC is open seven days a week at its 46 environmentally friendly branches, 16 of which are in New Jersey, according to a PNC spokesman.
Commerce customers need not worry too much about the new Canadian owners, as weekend banking is all the rage there, too. CIBC, Canada’s fifth-largest retail bank, recently announced plans to swing open the doors to six locations in Vancouver and Toronto on Sundays (see RBI 580), after TD Canada Trust indicated it would extend its hours into the evening at more than 800 branches starting 1 November. CIBC already offers its clients evening and Saturday banking hours in many of its 1,048 branches.
Even smaller banks see a competitive advantage in opening the doors more often and later than before. Some community banks view the extended hours as a way to gain market share from larger competitors.
In suburban Boston, Westfield Bank is joining Holyoke Credit Union in Sunday openings. At Westfield Bank’s newest branch, which opened in June, customers travel from other bank branch locations to bank on Sundays, keeping the small branch busy all day. The Westfield Bank branch is open on Sunday from 12pm to 4 pm, Saturdays from 9am to 3pm and has extended hours from 7am until 7pm Monday to Friday.
At Holyoke Credit Union, which in April 2006 opened its headquarters on Sundays, the extended hours have also been a hit. The credit union’s main office is open from 11am to 4pm on Sundays.
When Fifth Third Bank opened a new branch in St Louis, Missouri, in September, it used the occasion to open all 11 of its area branches seven days a week. Fifth Third branches in St Louis are now open from 7.30am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm on Saturday and 11am to 4pm on Sunday.
US Bank pioneered extended hours in the St Louis market a year ago. The bank now offers longer hours in Phoenix, Arizona and Portland, Oregon, too. It opens 17 high-traffic branches at 7.30am Monday to Friday as a convenience for small-business customers, said a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based bank. The branches stay open as late as 7pm on Fridays.
The bank’s 30 locations in supermarkets are open from 10am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm Saturday and 11am to 3pm on Sunday. The extended hours are part of US Bank’s Powerbank strategy, which includes extended-day processing of deposits. The bank credits deposits made up until closing time the same day, even at the branches that stay open late.