Managing bank branches in Manhattan is never easy, but some operate far more successfully than others. GreenPoint Bank's branch on 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue is not one of them. Despite the fresh, modern design of the newly opened branch, which replaced one around the corner, it's a flashback to the old days, before the omnipresence of ATMs.

Located near Penn Station, one of the city's busiest areas, the branch usually is swamped with customers. Lines are long, and customers get fidgety. Even at lunchtime, when the lines seem to go on for miles, there rarely are more than four tellers, despite the 13 stations. Sometimes, during rush hours, as few as two are manned.

It shouldn't be that way, says Richard Humphrey, a senior vice president of the bank's parent, $15 billion-asset GreenPoint Financial Corp. He says he thought the branch, one of 74 the bank operates in the New York area, had been operating smoothly. But, from a customer's view, it clearly doesn't.

Lines are bad enough. But the branch is chaotic in others ways. One customer reports that in less than six weeks, GreenPoint issued him four MasterMoney Cards, which are the bank's ATM, debit and credit cards rolled into one. The first two wouldn't work at all. The third card was merely temperamental; it worked at some ATMs but not others.

The tellers at the branch eventually got to know the customer, who conscientiously sought to be friendly, hoping that would produce better service, or at least some sympathy.No such luck. The customer asked one of the few amiable GreenPoint tellers for a new MasterMoney Card, explaining that his current plastic worked only at ATMs in kiosks and bodegas. It didn't work at a single bank, not even GreenPoint.

The teller explained that to get a new card, she would have to deactivate the current one. That was the third time in six weeks the card was deactivated. It will take "seven to 11 days" to replace it, she said.

"Am I the only one that this is happening to?" the customer asked.

"No," she replied sheepishly.

The customer said good-bye to his card, again, and the teller left her station to fetch an all-too-familiar form to order the new card--a task that took about 10 minutes.

The teller blamed the problem on the manufacturer of the cards. But Humphrey says that wasn't the problem. Rather, the machine used by the bank to program PIN numbers into the card was defective, he says. Cards processed through the machine were demagnetized.

While waiting, the customer listened and watched what was going on around him. Frustrated bank customers were eager to speak with a real human being. But the bank reps seemed numb to such a concept. Frustration Mounts
One teller held a conversation with a co-worker while counting a customer's money. The customer was furious. "Excuse me," she said, "but when you handle my money I expect your full attention. When I handle my money, I concentrate on nothing else. You should do the same."

The teller did not respond. The customer finally got her money and walked away, not surprisingly, miffed.

It doesn't have to be that way. On a recent weekday at lunch hour, the GreenPoint branch had fewer tellers and far more people waiting in line than nearby branches of rivals such as Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Emigrant Savings Bank.

Citi had six tellers and no more than five customers in line. Chase, also with six tellers, had an even shorter line. And Emigrant had five tellers and just two people waiting.In contrast, about a dozen customers waited to see only four tellers at GreenPoint.


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