Wells Fargo’s new branch in NoMa focuses on wireless, paperless transactions


Wells Fargo bank teller Lawrence Pinckney assists customer Cornelia Meadows at the bank’s new branch in NoMa. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The bank of the future, according to Wells Fargo, relies on wireless devices, large touch-screen ATMs and is virtually paperless.

At the company’s newest branch, which opened last week in the Northeast Washington neighborhood of NoMa, employees use tablets and smartphones to assist clients, and customers can have receipts e-mailed or text messaged to their phones.

The location is the first of its kind. At about 1,000-square-feet, it is one-third the size of a typical branch.

“It’s a very efficient use of space for us,” said Jonathan G. Velline, executive vice president for ATM banking and store strategy at Wells Fargo. “In a 3,000 square-foot store, we would have an area for full-service banking, and a separate area for self-service banking. Here we fit it all in once place. We started layering it all on top of each other, so this is our full-service, self-service and [one-on-one] banking space all in one.”

Employees — there are currently three — have no assigned desks or workspaces. Instead, they use pop-out work stations to assist customers.

Most basic needs — withdrawing money or depositing checks, for example — can be done using the store’s three ATMs, Golden said.

When a client needs help opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage, employees lead them to mini work areas equipped with computers and cushioned benches. (When not in use, keyboards are stashed in drawers and monitors swivel toward the wall.)

“This [new design] is driven by the marketplace,” said Michael L. Golden, Wells Fargo’s regional president for the Washington area. “We couldn’t have been here without this format — there just aren’t thousands of square foot of space available in many neighborhoods.”

Traditional branches typically require up to 40 percent of the space to be designated for back offices, Velline said.

Changing habits

At night, bright yellow doors close off a portion of the branch to create a 24-hour ATM vestibule. In addition to standard $20 bills, the machines also dispense $1, $5 and $100 bills.

The branch’s revamped design reflects broader changes in peoples’ banking habits, executive say. The majority of customers tend to favor wireless and mobile banking — at least most of the time.

“But every four or six months, they might want personalized help with some issue,” Golden said. “We are prepared to fulfill every need.”

Nazmul Haque, who works in NoMa, stopped by the new location early last week. He said he had closed his Wells Fargo bank account several years earlier, but decided to reactivate it when he saw the new branch in the first floor of the office building where he works.

“I went in and it literally took five minutes [to reactivate my account],” Haque said. “It was very environmentally friendly — everything was electronic so I didn’t need to sign any hard copies. I’d never seen such a small location that had everything in it.”

Even so, there are certain instances when employees might need to refer customers to one of three larger branches nearby.

“If you’re a merchant and you have heavy needs in terms of cash and coins, we’re really not set up for that here,” Velline said. “We’re using this as an opportunity to learn what this format can deliver.”

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo began working on the new design about 18 months ago, Velline said. In October, the bank built a prototype in a store basement in New York.

“It was mostly dry wall and two-by-fours, but it allowed us to visualize exactly how things would come together,” Velline said. “How does this feel from the [employee]’s perspective, how does it feel from the customer’s perspective? How does it all fit together?”

They tested different types of furniture and rearranged work spaces to make sure it was easy for customers to move from one area to the next.

Velline said the company was not sure how many more of these new branches Wells Fargo would open, but said that they would be well-suited to urban markets where real estate can be expensive and difficult to come by.

With $21.76 billion in local deposits — roughly 14 percent of the market share — Wells Fargo is the second-largest bank in the Washington area, behind Capital One.

But Golden says there is still room to expand.

“Clearly we have a sizeable market here,” he said. “But we also have an opportunity to grow.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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