In what could be the ultimate banker's fantasy, the $29.4 billion- asset Union Bank of California (UBC) opened what it calls the equivalent of a 5,000 square-foot branch in a high-traffic retail location, on 135 square feet, with zero staffing. Located in an up-scale mall in Redondo Beach, CA, the branch has ATM and videoconferencing capabilities so that it can do almost everything a full-service branch can do, including--courtesy of Sony technology--providing investment advice. If customers can't get the answers they need by wending through the offerings tucked inside the video screen, they're eventually connected, face-to-face, to a fully informed customer service representative qualified to, say, open a new account or take a loan application.

Though the video kiosk seems to have everything, it's mainly a marketing experiment, says Linda Odenath, UBC svp in charge of convenience banking. "We expect to learn a lot from this first one," she says. "(So far,) we've been successful in moving people towards self-service and opening new accounts and applying for loans. It's one of our busier ATM locations and exceeding our expectations."

As a result, adds Odenath, "right now we're looking at other venues to place these in, and expect to place five more within six to nine months," in other malls and in supermarkets.

What UBC doesn't expect, however, is for video kiosks to replace traditional branches."We're not creatively destroying our branch network," says Odenath. "We are enhancing our distribution, and adding another delivery point."--reinbach

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