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If you want to expose the service flaws in a financial institution or relish in the high-service quality, a branch is the place to do it. A visit to any financial institution branch will speak volumes about the institution’s culture, approach to service and overall efficiency. I recently visited a branch of one of the nation’s largest banks (one of those banks that has more assets than the entire credit union industry) to conduct some business. Before I get letters on this, of course my primary financial relationship is with a credit union, but some life events forced me to also form a relationship with this large bank.

I was intrigued by what I discovered in what I expected to be a very routine visit. It was 12:30 in the afternoon. I entered and saw a customer service representative, the greeter, who basically takes the customer’s name, gets an idea of what they need and determines whom they need to see. If it’s not something that can be handled by a teller, the rep shuffles you off to either a loan or investment person that you typically see in the open office space of a branch. I needed to see one of these people, so I waited behind the person in front of me who was having a dramatic conversation with the rep about her son’s high school prom plans. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but the bank was incredibly quiet and it was hard not to hear all about the prom plans. I thought the prom talk was very good on one level – there was a folksy relationship there. It certainly wasn’t a bank treating its customers as numbers, which was refreshing. That shoots down one credit union criticism of banks. On the other hand, the conversation seemed to go on much longer than the business being conducted. I was on my lunch break and was hoping things would move along a little quicker, or there would be another employee to help me.

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