Game On! Berkshire Hills Gives Branches a Clubhouse Feel

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What better way to introduce yourself to the neighborhood than provide free coffee, video game systems, Wi-Fi access and high-definition televisions?

Berkshire Bank has been doing just that at some of its branches.

Other banks, including Umpqua Holdings (UMPQ) in Portland, Ore., have added fun touches to their branches, like yoga classes and coffee bars. But as Berkshire enters new markets, its redesigned branches are helping to draw in potential customers, says Sean Gray, executive vice president of retail banking at Berkshire Bank.

"We are getting into new markets and that spurred us to make a statement," Gray says. "When you open a de novo, traffic is critical."

Berkshire, a unit of Berkshire Hills Bancorp (BHLB), is including a community room in its new branches where customers can hold a variety of meetings and events. So far, the bank has hosted events like wine tastings, yoga classes and chef parties. People have also used the spaces, which may include Wii and Xbox video game systems, for gaming tournaments.

"We don't want to pigeonhole the community room to business activities," Gray says. "We want it to be a showcase."

The $5.5 billion-asset Berkshire Hills in Pittsfield, Mass., has been growing quickly in recent years. It entered markets near Syracuse, N.Y., in 2011 when it purchased Rome Bancorp and expanded further in that area by buying Beacon Federal Bancorp last year. It also gained a foothold in Connecticut when it purchased Connecticut Bank and Trust Co. in Hartford in April.

All of the attendees of the events hosted in the community rooms may not be current customers of the bank. But through these activities, they are exposed to Berkshire and what it has to offer, Gray says.

The community rooms have external access so they can be used after the bank has closed. There is no fee to use the space, but a person does need to have an account with Berkshire to serve as a security deposit, Gray says.

Additionally, the redesigned branches include features like an open floor plan, free Internet access and DVD players. Currently about 30% of Berkshire's branches have the new design and the bank plans to redo roughly half of its 75 branches over the next few years. The bank hosted on Wednesday a grand opening for a branch in Pittsfield, Mass., that included many of these features.

"This helps us to differentiate," Gray says. "We are always looking to stand out."

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