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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 1 month ago

Nexus of influence: Bank looks to set a trend

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At a new style of branch unveiled by Regions Bank in the Tampa Bay region, video killed the banker’s hours.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

South Pasadena, a community of about 5,000 people nestled between Gulfport and St. Pete Beach in Pinellas County, has become a testing ground for a $125 billion-asset powerhouse bank with tens of thousands of customers across the South, Midwest, Florida and Texas. 

The test? The latest in the banking industry's ongoing quest to create a branch strategy that's both profitable for the bank and preferable and efficient for the customer. This one comes from Regions Bank, which, at its first “Nexus”-style branch in Florida, at 1400 Pasadena Ave. S., hopes to makes the notion of “banker’s hours” a thing of the past.

The branch exterior has been given an ultra-modern new look. Courtesy photo.

That's because at this branch customers will find video banking ATMs that can handle the usual array of transactions in addition a host of other tasks. That comes courtesy of a banker, based at Regions’ Birmingham, Ala., headquarters, who can communicate with the customer via the ATM’s video screen and an attached telephone handset.

“The big thing for our customers is that it extends our banking hours,” says Shawn Bradley, Regions’ executive vice president in charge of retail network strategy and design. “They can do things after hours that they couldn’t do otherwise.”

Video bankers are available 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. on Sundays.

“What we’ve invested in additional technology, we are saving in an actual building construction costs.” Shawn Bradley, vice president of Regions Bank.

Not only does the technology make it easier for customers to get face time with bankers if they desire, says bank officials, it also serves a vital business role of spurring conversations about financial needs and goals.

“It generally starts with a deposit or withdrawal,” says Jim Donatelli, executive vice president of Regions Bank’s St. Petersburg-Clearwater market. “But if the customer has a question about a loan, or maybe what they need to do to start saving for college for a child, they can start those discussions with these video bankers,and then those bankers can transition them to somebody here locally at the branch who can help them.”

Donatelli adds the branch is "about improving the client experience with human contact, but using technology to do it. It's not about replacing human contact with technology — it’s enhancing it.”

Also, you won’t find any traditional teller lines at a Nexus branch. Walking into the building, customers enter an open waiting area and are immediately greeted by a banker who whisks them over to a workstation, or “pod,” as Regions calls them, where most, if not all, transactions can be handled.

Video bankers greatly extend the hours during which customers can communicate with Regions' staff members. Courtesy photo.

The branch’s seven full-time staff members are all universal bankers trained to handle the full spectrum of customers' needs. Their pods’ computers are equipped with screens that can flip around, allowing the customer to see the banker's financial modeling tools.

“It’s so different from standing in a teller line where there’s someone looking right over your shoulder and can hear everything you say,” says Donatelli. “Because the interaction is so personal, we’re able to ask a lot more questions to understand what your life goals are, what your financial goals are, and how we can help you meet those goals.”

Even the waiting area has been given a rethink, with comfortable chairs equipped with USB and electrical outlets for charging devices, and large-screen TVs that display financial tips and tricks. And if you need to access your safe-deposit box but forgot your key? No problem. In fact, there is no key — a biometric scanner grants access based on a scan of your face or fingerprint.

Bradley says years of planning and research went into the design of the Nexus branch. The objectives were to make the Regions experience more open, inviting and eye-catching — while prioritizing customer convenience. Other large banks, from PNC to Chase, have also reintroduced branches to match technology trends in recent years. (Of course, many banks have also scaled back on branches all together, given the rise of mobile banking.)

Regions, with $124.58 billion in assets, acquired the South Pasadena site in January 2015 for $1.85 million. While Donatelli concedes "it’s a more expensive branch to build because of the technology,” the flip side is, he adds, is "you don’t need as many branches as you used to with the old model.”

Also, the design can fit into a wider range of real estate footprints. “The building itself, the square footage, is considerably smaller,” says Bradley. “What we’ve invested in additional technology, we are saving in an actual building construction costs, so the overall cost to open the branch is relatively flat compared to what we’ve been doing, historically.”

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