Washington Mutual’s experiment in futuristic branch design-at a costof $1 billion-has come to an ignominious end. The new owner, JPMorganChase, considers the open floor-plan design confusing to customers andlacking in privacy, so it’s ripping out all 900 and replacing the freestanding stations and cash-dispensing machines with teller windowscomplete with bullet-proof glass. Charles Sharf, who runs the Chaseunit of J.P. Morgan has bluntly said that traditional branches are“superior in every way. They might be boring, but they’re practical.”

Bankshave been experimenting with branch design for 30 years now, but WaMu’sOccasio branches (which in Latin means favorable opportunity) werestill a significant leap. By creating teller pods stationed in themiddle of the branch, and using cash recyclers, tellers were free togreet customers as they came in the door and create a more retail feelto the bank experience. Curving floor plans, softer color schemes, andquirky touches like selling teller “action figures” wearing WaMuinsignias sent a message that this was a different kind of bank.

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