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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 17, 2016 2 years ago

Universal model

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An ATM that spits out $1 bills is part of a major technology transformation of PNC Bank's Gulf Coast branches. Other banks have seized the trend, too.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Customers who walk into a PNC Bank branch on the Gulf Coast might think they are in an Apple store. They will see iPad stations, computer terminals, even full-size ATMs.

Although there will be employees, gone will be the traditional counter-based bank teller. Instead, says PNC Bank executive Russell Beckner, there will be total financial consultants armed with tablets who won't pass off customers to a colleague based on a task or request. PNC, like several other institutions, calls it the bank of the future.

“We heard feedback from our clients, and they want a lot more technology,” says Beckner, a PNC senior vice president who oversees 16 retail locations for the bank from Sun City Center south to Naples. “Our focus is to make it easier for our clients to interact with us. We want the customer experience to evolve.”

The experience at PNC Bank mirrors what's happening industrywide. Several other national and regional banks are building branches of the future, where technology leads the way.
The list includes behemoths such as Chase and Citibank, down to Portland, Ore.-based Umpqua Bank, which has garnered national industry attention for its funky-cool, coffeehouse-style branches in Oregon and northern California. Several credit unions have also jumped on the bank-of-the-future trend.

The branch-based technology transformation comes at a time when fewer people actually use a branch to bank, especially younger customers. A recent report from research firm First Data, for example, the Unbanked Generation, found that 94% of consumers under 35 years old bank online.

The evolution model at Pittsburgh-based PNC, with about $350 billion in assets spread through 2,600 branches in 19 states and Washington, D.C., is to combine simplicity with efficiency. PNC spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez says the bank has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate and retrofit the branches on the Gulf Coast. Offices in the region that have been upgraded include six locations combined in Bradenton, Clearwater, Lakewood Ranch, Tampa, Sarasota and Seminole. About half the bank on a national scale, adds Suarez, will operate out of the new branches by 2019.

“Our intention,” Beckner says, “is to eventually do away with the service transaction area,” the 4-foot walls tellers normally work behind.

A customer can also use the iPad in the branch to sign up and log in to PNC's online system, called Virtual Wallet, for personal accounts and Cash Flow Insight for small businesses.
One of the key features of Virtual Wallet, says Beckner, is danger days: The system sends out text and email alerts if a customer gets close to an overdraft. “I've seen a lot of online bank experiences,” Beckner says, “But I really believe this is one of the best.”

The ATM, available 24 hours a day in the newly designed branches, also comes with a twist: It can dispense various denominations, down to $1 bills. It will also cash checks or accept multiple checks and cash for deposit.

Despite all the upgrades, Beckner believes there will always be human interaction in some form at a branch, not just a bunch of shiny machines. “There's so much more to banking that reflects the size and style of a client,” he says. “All of that is taken into account.”

(This story was updated to reflect what PNC spent to renovate branches on the Gulf Coast.)

Sunny state
Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank has made an aggressive expansion into Florida in the last four years. PNC's total assets in the state, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, increased 27% from June 2012 to June 2015, going from $6.5 billion to $8.3 billion. PNC has 192 branches in Florida.

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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