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Capital One plans banking ‘cafes’

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee (left) and ING Direct’s CEO of savings, Arkadi Kuhlmann, opened an ING banking cafe last year.

AP Images for ING Direct

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee (left) and ING Direct’s CEO of savings, Arkadi Kuhlmann, opened an ING banking cafe last year.

Capital One Financial Corp., a national bank best known locally for its credit cards, plans to open its first branch offices — at least six — in the Boston area starting in late 2013 to promote its growing online banking division, a spokeswoman said.

But the McLean, Va., bank says they won’t be traditional branches with teller lines and safe-deposit boxes.

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Instead, they’ll be sleek marketing offices, called “cafes,” that will serve up coffee and other amenities. If they are anything like cafes in other cities, they will include free wireless Internet access, flat-screen televisions, and comfy furniture for hanging out.

“It’s a departure from the traditional banking experience that people have come to know,” said spokeswoman Amanda Landers.

Capital One’s cafes, already operating in eight cities, don’t have tellers to handle deposits and withdrawals, bankers to handle loans, or safe-deposit boxes to store valuables. They’re designed to to introduce consumers to its online bank.

Instead of handling cash, employees at the existing cafes serve up espresso, sandwiches, and advice, helping customers set up online ­accounts and learn about the bank’s services. If customers want to make a deposit, Capital One employees hand them pre-addressed, stamped envelopes to mail deposits to the bank or help them download smartphone apps to deposit checks electronically.

As more customers bank via the Internet, mobile devices, and ATMs, many banks are reinventing their branches.

Bank of America plans to open at least a dozen so-called flagship branches, including one in Boston, with a “power bar” to plug in gadgets and a wider assortment of specialists in lending, investing, and private banking.

Umpqua Bank in Oregon has attracted attention for ­offering free Internet service, an espresso bar, and meeting space at some branches to encourage customers to hang out.

Other banks are experimenting with video conferencing to let customers talk to bankers located miles away.

“We’ve reached a tipping point where the majority of banks say they have initiatives in place to make substantial changes in their branch networks,” said Bob Meara, a senior analyst at Celent, a Boston financial research firm. “There’s a lot more banks developing new business models.”

Capital One is adding offices when many other banks are closing branches. This week, for instance, Citibank said it would close nine of its 31 branches in Massachusetts.

So far, Capital One has leased six locations in Massachusetts: 1327 Beacon St. in Brookline, 420 Market St. in Brighton, 799 Boylston St. in the Back Bay, 129 Tremont St. in downtown Boston, 24 JFK St. in Cambridge; and 776 Beacon St. in Newton. It had struck a deal for a site on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, but abandoned it after opposition from local residents.

Boston will probably be the first city where Capital One opens multiple cafes. It currently has cafes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Honolulu, Wilmington, Del.; and St. Cloud, Minn.

The spacious three-story San Francisco office, which opened in February 2011 , features a coffee bar selling sandwiches, salads, and cookies; flat-screen televisions; free wireless Internet; space for community meetings; and colorful beanbag chairs.

The cafes were originally introduced by ING Direct USA, the country’s largest Internet bank, which Capital One bought for $9 billion earlier this year. Starting in February, Capital One plans to rebrand the Internet bank under the Capital One 360 name, the brand it will use in Boston.

The bank said the cafes have attracted 6.3 million visitors since the first office opened in New York in 2001.

Dan O’Malley, who runs PerkStreet Financial, an Internet bank based in Boston, said the cafes initially helped ING Direct introduce people to online banking when the idea still seemed foreign to many Americans. But he said that such offices are less worthwhile today, when millions of people shop and bank online every day. PerkStreet doesn’t have any branch offices.

Capital One, one of the nation’s largest banks, also has close to 1,000 traditional bank branches and 2,000 ATMs — mainly on the East Coast from Virginia to Connecticut and in two Southern states, Louisiana, and Texas.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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