Washington Mutual Inc. will always be remembered for its acquisition binges and stunning mortgage losses, but the Seattle thrift company also shook up the stodgy world of retail banking in ways that forced many competitors to become more customer-friendly.

It was among the first in the industry to offer free checking accounts to consumers and to think of its branches as "stores" that needed to be inviting places. But a series of missteps kept Wamu from fully capitalizing on its successes.

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