Bank of America says it plans to unveil at least a dozen “flagship” branches across the country — including a massive new 12,000-square-foot office in the Back Bay — that will offer customers more space, more specialized bankers and financial advisers, and the latest gadgets.
The supersized branches, scheduled to be rolled out over the next two years, will feature employees patrolling the lobby with tablet computers — so they can help customers with routine transactions, such as resetting an ATM PIN or checking the status of a deposit, so they don’t have to wait in line for a teller.
The flagship banking centers will include videoconference screens, so customers can talk to their favorite banker or financial adviser — even if they are located elsewhere. In addition, the branches will also feature a “power bar” where customers can plug in their laptop or tablet to do their banking while digital signs display stock quotes, pictures of branch staff, and the latest product promotions.
“We’ll bring everything Bank of America can do to that banking center,” said Dean Athanasia, president of the bank’s preferred and small business banking segments.
Bank of America is reinventing its branches at the same time that other banks are experimenting with branches — even as more customers conduct business online and at ATMs. Next week, TD Bank is opening a new cube-shaped branch in Miami inspired by Apple’s landmark computer store in New York.
The TD Bank branch will be encased in a 30-foot-high glass structure — a far cry from drab branches in strip malls or stone fortresses with pillars.
Other banks, including Providence-based Citizens Bank and Eastern Bank in Boston, are experimenting with videoconferencing technology so customers can talk to bankers or financial advisers based in other locations.
Bank analyst Bob Meara said he was surprised Bank of America would invest so much money opening enormous new branches. Foot traffic at bank branches is declining by 5 to 15 percent a year and Bank of America is in the process of eliminating 750 branches nationwide, including some in Massachusetts.
“I don’t get it,” said Meara, a senior analyst with Celent, a financial research firm in Boston. “The sheer size and scope and cost seem to be hard to justify in a difficult retail environment.”
But Bank of America executives noted that despite the surge in online banking, most customers continue to visit physical branches to take out a mortgage or conduct other important financial transactions. “They still still like to have that face to face” experience,” says Athanasia.
Bank of America, the largest bank in Massachusetts, opened its first flagship center in June in Charlotte, N.C., where the bank is based.
It plans to open a second flagship location at 440 Boylston St. in Boston — in the curved building that once housed FAO Schwarz and Shreve, Crump & Low — next summer. As part of the move, the bank plans to close two smaller branches in the neighborhood, at 210 Berkeley St. and 557 Boylston St., after the flagship branch opens.
The Back Bay banking center will span 12,000 square feet — triple the size of its typical branch. The location will include space for its U.S. Trust private banking division and Merrill Lynch investment arm on the second floor.
Bank of America executives say the location is particularly attractive for a major branch because the area has a strong mix of professional workers, affluent residents, shoppers, and businesses. Many other banks and financial institutions have opened new branches in the neighborhood over the years for similar reasons.
The bank hasn’t finished designing the Back Bay branch, but its flagship location in Charlotte — with a black ceiling, modern art work, and spacious seating — looks a bit more like a hip lounge than a traditional bank branch.
Still, the Back Bay flagship won’t be the largest branch in Massachusetts. Bank of America’s branch in Harvard Square in Cambridge occupies 22,000 square feet and is the bank’s busiest in the Northeast.
And the bank only plans to go so far to be hip. It won’t serve lattes or cocktails. And it wants customers to use the power outlets for banking, not Web surfing or Facebook.
“We’re not a cafe,” said Kevin Dolan, who oversees the bank’s branches in the Northeast. “There are no refreshments served.”