Welcome to your warmer, fuzzier bank

Bank sign on building

Does your bank branch feel like:

I have good news: It's only temporary.

After years of being treated like air travelers newly arriving with bird flu, banking customers might soon experience whiplash at the new, cozier and -- yikes! -- social surroundings coming to a branch bank near you.

In a strange and even ironic turn of events, banking's one-two punch -- the financial meltdown and a regulatory smack-down that makes "Hangover 2" look tame by comparison -- actually bodes well for customers who've grown weary of being treated like testy 3-year-olds.

Out with the hardwood banker's desks and corny velvet ropes. In with the plush contemporary furnishings, plasma screens and ultra lounge décor -- all the better to get to know your banker.

Because they now want -- indeed, need -- to get to know you.

Why the extreme makeover, bank edition? It's simple really.

Banks have always realized that their branches are their storefronts, their brand identity -- their personality, if you will.

Now that their ability to secretly fleece us with surreptitious fines and fees (a nasty habit born of equal parts greed and electronic sleight of hand) has been severely restricted, they've no choice but to make nice, as in days of old, to earn our allegiance and patronage.

Since opening and operating branches costs mucho dinero, the new-old wisdom is to turn them into attractive places to hang out because the longer we linger, the more banking services our new swarms of bank friends stand to sell us.


Oh, there will still be a few, of course. But the new modality is to move more banking talent from behind the bulletproof glass and into the lounge to mix and mingle.

I know, it's going to take some getting used to. Note to liberal arts majors: You may find a future in banking yet!

A glance overseas may be a clue to what's coming.

BNP Paribas' new flagship branch in Paris features décor right out of an Austin Powers movie, with purple shag carpet, a glitzy disco-inspired silver hexagonal ceiling, ubiquitous iPads and even a children's corner.

Citibank's new Smart Banking center in Hong Kong is a glass-enclosed cross between a Best Buy and a sports bar, with giant-screen TVs and iPads loaded with Citi software just waiting to break the ice between customer and instant bank friend.

My view?

A little person-to-person customer service would go a long way with banking customers today. I would welcome the chance to actually get to know my banker without holding up the line. Extra points if they're witty and self-deprecating. Yes, it could definitely move the dial on my consumer confidence in my bank.

Just as people can change, so can banks.

I'm hoping this time it's for the better.

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