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Banking: Through with drive-through

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In the days when many American suburbs were taking shape, the drive-through bank window was a startling innovation. Imagine depositing your paycheck without even parking the car! Ever since these windows became de rigueur outside big cities, banks have designed their branches — and set aside vast areas of blacktop — to accommodate long lines of idling vehicles.

But that model is changing. Beyond illustrating the impact of ATMs, direct deposit, and smartphone apps, recent news that Bank of America is phasing out some existing drive-through windows also suggests that, as consumer habits evolve, some kinds of car-oriented sprawl could disappear. It’s happened before. Most drive-in theaters are long gone. Enclosed shopping malls are giving way to open-air “lifestyle centers” that are more conducive to walking outdoors (and, developers hope, generate more sales on less acreage).

Don’t count the drive-through lane out just yet; many existing teller lanes will no doubt be retrofitted with ATMs. But it’s become clear that speed and convenience aren’t synonymous with doing business from the driver’s seat, and there are better ways to use the space.

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