SEATTLE - Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest thrift, said Thursday that it plans to open at least 40 of its Occasio retail branches in Arizona starting next year.

The Seattle thrift company, which recently began an expansion in Nevada, is using the specially designed branches to expand quickly in new markets without acquisitions. It broke into the southern Nevada retail market this year with 12 Occasio branches and plans to open nine more in the state.

The new sites, designed by a firm that has done work for mainstream retail clients such as Ann Taylor Stores, are intended to smooth customer flow by incorporating new retail banking technology, like handheld account-checking computers, and dumping some traditional branch structures, such as the row of teller cages.

Deanna Oppenheimer, president of Washington Mutual's consumer banking group, said the company's success in Nevada is fueling its expansion drive. Deposits at Occasio branches are almost three times the average for new branches, the company said in a statement.

In Arizona, Washington Mutual is competing in a banking environment dominated by three big players, which held more than 60% of the deposit market, according to FDIC data from last June: Bank One Corp, Wells Fargo & Co., and Bank of America Corp.

Washington Mutual already has a physical presence in the state, but it is restricted to home loan centers in Tucson, Phoenix, East Mesa, Glendale, and Scottsdale. The Occasio expansion is to target metropolitan Phoenix.

Wamu said it plans to gain market share quickly in its new states by opening many branches in a short period.

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