In the ultimate rejection of banker's hours, Royal Bank of Canada has opened the world's first bank branch to be staffed 24 hours a day.

The experimental branch in Burlington, an upper-middle-class Toronto suburb, has two tellers stationed at drive-through windows round the clock, six days a week.

Although banks all over the world have experimented with a host of new automated services aimed at providing 24-hour customer access, no other has gone so far in teller staffing. "The focus is on convenience," said a Royal Bank spokesman. "Our goal is to be available when it's convenient to our customers, not the other way around."

Testing Ground

Royal Bank invested $2 million to install it's Burlington "superbranch," which it is using as a research and development lab. All services will be monitored six months for effectiveness; those that flunk will be abandoned.

In addition to the 24-hour tellers, the branch will have loan officers on duty from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Other innovations include check cashing, foreign exchange, and travelers checks issued through automated teller machines. ATMs can also issue interim statements on credit card accounts. The branch also has automatic coin-counting machines that issue a receipt, which can be used to get cash or deposited.

Foreign exchange is particularly popular, since many Burlington residents do their shopping Sundays in Buffalo, some 45 minutes away by car.

"It's a lot better than getting U.S. dollars at any old rate in some parking lot," the spokesman said.

The bank picked Burlington, a community from which most people commune to work in either Toronto or neighboring Hamilton, Ontario, as a test site because of the large number of two-income households that are short on time.

If the Burlington branch proves successful, 24-hour banking could become the pattern at all of Royal Bank's 1,600 branches.

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