Atlanta's Buckhead Community Bank is inviting the whole neighborhood into its boardroom.

Buckhead, which was opened last Friday, is offering businesses and community groups free use of its main meeting room.

Marvin Cosgray, president and chief executive officer of Buckhead, said the bank offered the room to attract attention to its opening.

"There are a lot of community groups and professional groups based in our area," he said. "We thought that a good way to reach out and welcome people to our bank was to offer them our boardroom."

The boardroom is hooked to a separate alarm system, so groups can use it at night and on weekends without disrupting bank security.

So far, merchant associations and brokerage firms have taken advantage of the room to hold meetings and conduct seminars. Mr. Cosgray said he hopes to get to a point where the room is always in use.

"We have a big-screen television," he said, "and we plan to hook it up to the Financial News Network. When there are no meetings going on, I'd like to invite customers in for refreshments."

Community bankers often say small banks offer better personal service than big banks, but rarely can they prove it. Now to make their point, community bankers can cite a study released this week by a Chicago marketing consulting firm.

Tynan Marketing called 14 Chicago banks three times each to gauge response time to the question "How much total interest would I pay on a mortgage at today's rate?" And while the study falls well short of being statistically significant, president Kevin Tynan called the findings "an indictment of large banks and a celebration of small banks."

Calls to the city's 12 largest banks-including First National Bank of Chicago and LaSalle Bank-were transferred an average of 4.2 times. Callers waited an average of 5 minutes and 29 seconds before being connected with the right person.

By comparison, calls to Liberty Bank for Savings, a $570 million-asset community bank, were transferred once, with an average waiting time of 1 minute and 41 seconds. What's more, while Liberty representatives offered the same answer each time, one large bank gave three different answers.

"Most banks would be better off investing funds in employee training than in flashy ad campaigns" that tout friendly service, said Mr. Tynan.

The calls that were not answered directly went into voice mail. Of 18 messages left at large banks during the one-month study, three were returned.

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