Officials at the Citicorp subsidiary said it is planning 24-hour branches, which would be unmanned outside of business hours, for two New York City locations. The facilities are similar to ones Citibank opened in San Francisco and Northbrook, Ill., last April. One branch is under construction in Harlem and was announced this week to coincide with a Harlem Week celebration. Citi is negotiating for the second site, which will be in the northwest Bronx. The high-tech branches are designed to perform any banking function in a fraction of the space required for fully staffed, conventional branches. Customer relationship managers would be on-site during business hours to help customers navigate the technology. Citibank's self-service branches will run on Windows NT software and will include full-motion, two-way video kiosks for customers to speak directly with bankers at remote call centers. The units will also be equipped with printing and embossing facilities so customers can receive credit cards and customized checks on-the-spot. Willy Socquet, head of Citicorp's retail banking business in New York, said the branches' performance and customer acceptance would be monitored closely. He said it is too early to determine how much costs would be cut through automation, but he was nonetheless enthusiastic about the potential. "We are trying to make banking simpler and easier," Mr. Socquet said. "We're predicting that our new electronic banking centers will change the face of consumer banking." Citi pointed out it is 20 years since it took automated teller machines to a new level by installing multiple units at every branch. It is among a handful of banks that have invested in self-service branching, which typically features a front-desk "concierge" and an array of interactive gadgets. Among the leaders was Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, which has opened 15 of its so-called Access branches since 1994. But for all the years of testing and research, the concept has not swept through the entire industry, said Octavio Marenzi, research director at Meridien Research Inc., Needham, Mass. Mr. Marenzi said the necessary investments in additional branches are seen as an interim step toward computerized home banking services. Indeed, Citibank will use the new branches to promote its personal computer service, which has 150,000 customers in New York. The branches will have home banking kiosks that introduce customers to the PC software. Citi will offer to send its staff to homes to install the software for free. Mr. Marenzi said banks are "desperately trying to find cheaper ways" to lower their branch-based overhead, but he added that he did not see the self-service model as "a viable approach." Still, in part because of self-service and supermarket branching initiatives, the number of FDIC-insured bank branches continues to grow, according to Bert Ely, principal of Ely & Co., an Alexandria, Va.-based bank consultant.
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