Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) in Columbus, Ohio, continues to bet big on in-store branches.

The $56 billion-asset company has opened 49 branches inside Giant-Eagle grocery stores in Ohio over the last 18 months and company officials said Wednesday that it will open about 20 more this year and will have 100 in Giant-Eagle stores by the end of 2015.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Financial Services conference in New York Wednesday, Don Kimble, its chief financial officer, and Mary Navarro, its head of retail and business banking, reiterated the company's plan to open roughly 20 branches within Meijer grocery stores in Michigan by the end of this year and 35 by the end of 2013.  In all, the company intends is aiming to build more 200 branches in grocery stores, primarily in Michigan and Ohio, within the next several years.

Navarro said that the company likes in-store branches because they generate more foot traffic and are far cheaper to set up and operate than traditional branches.

While other banks have been closing in-store branches because they have failed to meet expectations, Huntington is aiming to buck that trend by opening branches that are more full-service than the typical in-store location. Its store branches, for example, have investment advisers and small-business lenders on site, and have such amenities as drop boxes for business clients.

"To us that's really the key," Navarro said. "If you're going to offer [the convenience] of location and then start telling people what they can't do there, that doesn't seem very friendly.”

Kimble and Navarro credited the branching strategy, as well as new retail banking policies such as offering customers a 24-hour grace period to cover overdrafts without penalty, for increasing its customer base and boosting its cross-sell ratios.

Since the start of 2010, its number of households with consumer checking accounts has increased by 20%, to more than 1.1 million, and in the last year the number of checking customers using at least four products and services increased from 70.5% to 75.1%. Among business clients, nearly one third had at least four products at March 31, up from about one-quarter a year earlier.

"These numbers continue to reinforce the message that our strategy of acquiring customer relationships and deepening those relationships is working," Kimble said.

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