It's 34 feet long, weighs 16,000 pounds, and it moves.
And residents of the villages that dot the mountainous, desert terrain outside El Paso, Tex., couldn't be happier when it rolls into town.
The leviathan, which began roaming the outskirts of the West Texas city earlier this month, is State National Bank's Bankmobile, a full-service banking office on wheels.
"This thing is the latest marvel in technology, but it's really good old-fashioned customer service," said George Raunam, the senior vice president at State National who originally the idea of developing a full-service mobile branch. "Yesterday, we went to a small village called Socorro. To them. it was a red4etter day."
Mr. Raunam.said the arrival of the mobile branch was a welcome sight for many village residents. Communities like Socorro aren't large enough to sustain a brick-and-mortar branch, he said, and it would take residents hours to make a round trip to El Paso to make a banking transaction.
Mr. Raunam said Socorro residents welcomed the Bankmobile's staff -- a supervisor, two tellers, and a driver with a tour of the town hall and the police. and fire departments.
"It's worth our while for us to go there. We've got a half to a dozen little communities like this," Mr. Raunam said.
State National is a sevenbranch, $980 million-asset institution that serves a largely working-class popalation. The bank has set a 90-day goal of establishing regular routes through the communities. On weekends, the Bankmobile will also be open for business at two of El Paso's region malls.
Mobile branches and ATMs, of course, are not uncommon. Dean Debuck, a spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said that mobile branches have been approved in Indiana, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, and New York. There are about 140 in operation around the country, he said.
But Mr. Ratroam said the idea originally occurred to him around 1979, not long after he joined State National. He noted that El Paso is home to Fort Bliss, where thousands of Army recruits are sent for basic training.
"These young tigers came in every six to eight weeks and they got paid with what we called 'lipstick checks' for $50. They could then buy essentials like soap and a razor," Mr. Raunam said.
They had to have a way of cashing their checks, he continued, "So the bank bought a station wagon. And two tellers and I would go up to the basic training area."
Mr. Raunam said the idea of taking services to the customer remained with him, but only "in the last three years has this become feasible."
To find out what was required. bank officials approached the Comptroller of the Currency.
"It had to be in compliance with everything," said Mr. Raunam, recalling the strange looks he got. "By everything, I mean the Americas with Disabilities Act, the funds availability, I and the federal security requirements."
After the bank received conditional approval, the bank began to build the vehicle.
It chose a Winnnebago shell and a Chevrolette. To comply with disability law, the vehicle needed to raise and lower itself about 18 inches.
Meanwhile, for security reasons, the bank wanted to have outdoor functions for its ATM and check-cashing customers. Customers were invited inside into a small office to open accounts and handle other non: cash transactions.
The mobile branch uses a wireless system, said Linda Vega, senior vice president in charge of developing the bank's communications.
State National acquired a radio frequency through the Federal Communications Commission and radio equipment from Multipoint Inc., Belmont, Calif. Two strategically placed antennas link the mobile branch with Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano, Tex., the bank's data processor.
"Basically, on the Bankmobile you have all the online and ATM communications that we have at each of the branches," Ms. Vega said.
One of the more difficult tasks was finding a company that would design and build an 18inch-long vacuum tube system, since it was necessary to keep check-cashing customers outside for security reasons.
Finally, the bank found an Ohio firm, Hamilton Safe Co. in Fairfield, that agreed to do the job, and the day came for the Bankmobile to hit the road. With little advertising, the branch bandied 150 transactions on its first full day of operation, most through the ATM.
"I think we opened up two or three new accounts," Mr. Raunam said. "As far as the question, 'Is this thing going to bring in hundreds of thousands of new accounts?' I don't think so, but that's not its purpose."
Both Texas bankers predicted that more banks will develop mobile branches just as State National has done as a way to fill the needs of their customers. "We are as proud of this as any parent of a newborn baby can be," Mr. Raunam said. "It's been a long timecoming and we had a lot of fun doing it!"