TROUTDALE, Ore. - Washington Mutual Inc. has opened the first of 70 Occasio retail branches it plans for this year, in a Fred Meyer store in Troutdale.

Occasio (a Latin noun meaning "favorable opportunity") branches are intended to provide a dramatic shift from traditional bank branches in look, feel and service. Customers are greeted by a concierge and escorted to the appropriate service area. Customer service representatives staff the floor, and touch screens are available for those who want to learn more about bank products independently.

The first of 21 branches was opened in Las Vegas last April. Wamu of Seattle plans to open sites and remodel existing branches. Another 48 branches are to participate in a pilot program that involves the installation of key Occasio components.

"We're creating a retail environment where people want to go, rather than have to go," said Ken Leander, Washington Mutual group manager for Oregon and southwest and eastern Washington. "Occasio is not one 'big thing' but a myriad of enhancements that are based on what customers told us they wanted."

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