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10:50 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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My Kind of Town

It must be a great time to be a sign-maker (or to buy stock in one), based on what I'm seeing in the neighborhoods where I work and live.

It must be a great time to be a sign-maker (or to buy stock in one), based on what I'm seeing in the neighborhoods where I work and live. I did a double take this morning when I passed the green-themed Fleet branch on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City near my office - what was all that red? Then I realized the branch was being converted to Bank of America logos, signage and color schemes. I guess I'll be seeing the same transformation soon at the (erstwhile) Fleet branch in Hoboken, N.J., where I live.

But it's not just Bank of America that's changing the look of banking in Hoboken. At press time, Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bancorp was about to open its first branch in the hometown of Frank Sinatra. For months Commerce has been renovating a huge space that has been empty for years but definitely was a bank in an earlier era. Although the new branch will look like the historical, familiar image of a bank - stone, columns, high ceilings, etc. - the reality will be a less-traditional approach to banking in terms of services offered, hours, pricing and marketing.

In a booming town that is already very heavily "banked" (in party-hearty Hoboken, probably only bars and pizza joints outnumber ATMs and branches in terms of locations), it will be interesting to track Commerce's progress. Whether or not "America's most convenient bank" is offering Hoboken's generally young and transient population anything that it cannot already get from other banks in town remains to be seen; Sunday hours may not matter to a 20-something who has been bar-hopping until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. on a typical Saturday night.

In fact, Saturday nights in Hoboken are very good nights for banks - not because of any inherent customer loyalty, but because the (mostly young) people coming into town for the bar scene almost always have to visit an ATM, any ATM - not only to finance their indulgences, but also to pay exorbitant parking fees in a town where parking space is as scarce as bars are plentiful. So the non-customer transaction fees rack up. But my guess is that the only way any of these Saturday night visitors remember exactly which bank's ATM they visited is if they were alert enough to take a receipt with them.

Hoboken could be a great test case of the value of brand and service as differentiators. Party on, dudes!

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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