Webster Financial Corp. opened a new branch in a suburban Connecticut shopping mall last week that will serve as a test bed for its remote- delivery strategy.

The architecture and extended hours are designed to encourage customers and prospects to try out Webster's telephone and personal computer banking products.

"It is more like a learning center than a branch," said Peter Hickey, senior vice president of direct banking at Webster Bank, a $6.4 billion- asset institution based in Waterbury, Conn.

"There are a lot of customers that would bank electronically but need a demonstration and an opportunity to give it a test drive," said Mr. Hickey.

Although called an "electronic banking center" and focused on self- service delivery, the branch offers the same services as Webster's 63 conventional branches.

Two tellers staff the branch, which clearly revolves around self-service technology, such as video-banking screens, Internet terminals, and telephones.

The branch can serve 10 customers at a time, and self-service machines can perform a wide variety of functions, including issuing new checks and automated teller machine cards.

The employees staffing the branch help customers use the self-service technologies.

The Webster branch is typical of the type of experimentation many banks are engaged in, said Bert Ely, an Alexandria, Va.-based bank consultant.

He said staffing the branch is a good idea, but the bank needs to be careful about "not being too intrusive."

"After about the 10th time you go there, you don't want to see the bank lady anymore," he said.

Webster executives said the branch staff will make a point of avoiding being intrusive. The branch's "primary mission is to help people become comfortable with these new and emerging technologies," said Jeffrey N. Brown, executive vice president of marketing at Webster Bank.

"That will enable us to off-load transactions from our traditional branch networks to these new technologies, and that will allow us to reallocate our current staff from transactional to sales activity."

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