Sunday, September 25, 2005

 

The New York business scene: Fast banks

Banks used to pride themselves on being imposing, substantial, long-lived institutions. Part marketing, part reality, this impression was solidified by the banks' conscious choice of archetectural design. Most bank buildings constructed before World War II look like masssive mausaleums, with gigantic porticos framed by ionian pillars, meant to suggest classic government buildings. The message: permanance.

The banking industry has changed since then. Having been deregulated, it is now characterized by a fast past of merger, acquisition and takeover. And the archetecture has changed with it, reflecting both impermanence and a desparate need to pander to customer convenience.

Archetecturally, banks now look like urban fast food storefronts.

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Message seen on Bank of America's ATMs:
"Would you like some fries with your withdrawal?"



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Washington Mutual, left, has been around for a few years now, but basically came out of nowhere to sweep the nation with new branches -- probably on the strength of their innovative ideas for marketing "free checking" while passing hidden costs along to customers. Commerce Bank, right, offers convenient evening and weekend hours and no impersonal plexiglass screens, attracting both customers and robbers.
Perhaps more than anywhere, New York City demonstrates this. If you're an occasional visitor like I am, you get the impression that at least one new banking chain begins, and another folds, every six months.

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Here's a household name: HSBC???

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What the hell kind of bank name is "North Fork"? Wasn't that the name of a movie about a bank foreclosing on Montana homesteaders? (Not quite -- the people were being forced out of their homes to make way for a dam. But still...)

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It's nice to know that the next brand new bank is already
setting up to be ready for my
next visit to NYC.

Comments:
Some would attribute the change in architecture to the advent of FDIC insurance which meant that consumers no longer needed to trust banks; hence, banks no longer had to appear as if they'd endure for forever.
 
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