Banks Offer Free Beer, Yoga and Ice Cream

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Banks want to become cool enough to visit again, so many are building more spacious branches and stepping up the freebies.

Banks want to be Starbucks — not just a place where money changes hands, but someplace you might hang out for a bit.

The number of transactions conducted at community banks and credit unions has dropped 40 percent over the last two decades, according to a study by research firm Financial Management Solutions. The banks miss us and want us to come back.

That’s what led an Oregon branch of Umpqua Bank to hold its own Oktoberfest last year with pretzels, beer and an accordion player, says The Wall Street Journal. Other Umpqua branches have yoga classes and dog fairs.

Many banks are also trying to make newer branches “evoke the atmosphere of an Apple store or boutique hotel,” according to The Associated Press, with ATMs that can distribute smaller bills and machines that can print credit cards on demand.

Redesigns aren’t just about better financial services, though. Philadelphia-based Beneficial Bank has financial libraries to teach people about money. Connecticut-based Connex Credit Union holds events to teach about home buying and Medicare. Others are leaving lots of open space for community meetings and classes, or giving out freebies like coffee, ice cream and Wi-Fi.

The goal is the same as when banks used to give out free toasters and lunchboxes — to get people to visit and buy into more of the banks’ services. That’s hard to do, especially when we can deposit checks or pay for things via smartphone without ever seeing a teller. But beer, ice cream and a mellow atmosphere? That could work.

Stacy Johnson

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