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Is this ‘tiny’ bank branch a big deal?

John Egan

The number of U.S. bank branches – places where you can transact business with an ATM or a person – is getting smaller. And some of the branches themselves are getting smaller, or at least a new one in Lexington, Kentucky, is.

PNC Bank recently established what’s dubbed a “tiny branch” on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. The converted steel container (no bricks and mortar here) measures 160 square feet. To put that into perspective, the average hotel room is the U.S. is roughly double that size, or about 330 square feet.

For someone like me who’s somewhat claustrophobic, the idea of visiting a tiny bank branch is a little fear-inducing. One saving grace, though, is that you don’t have to spend as much time there as you typically do in a hotel room.

PNC bank placed a "tiny branch" on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.

PNC Bank placed a “tiny branch” on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.

Plus, the ATM is on the outside of the tiny branch, so you need not step inside to use your debit card. Bonus: You can make “tiny” withdrawals at the ATM. (More on that later.)

Fortunately, PNC Bank assures me this isn’t the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Bank Branch. The “tiny branch” is a temporary spot for PNC customers to do business till a permanent branch opens next year at UK’s new student center.

While I’m not wild about the cramped quarters of the “tiny branch,” I am intrigued by its “innovative features,” as PNC puts it.

For instance, instead of standing behind a counter, PNC employees approach and greet customers. And each employee carries an iPad, so with some taps on a screen, the employee can open an account, handle investments, start a loan application and tackle other banking tasks.

Then there’s their non-human counterpart, a DepositEasy ATM where your debit card lets you withdraw as little as $1.

“The tiny branch is a fun, creative way to help customers enhance their banking experience,” John Gohmann, PNC’s regional president in Lexington, says in a news release.

For now, the “tiny branch” in Lexington is PNC’s only such location. However, the bank previously has set up similar branches at the University of West Virginia as well as in Atlanta and Chicago, according to PNC spokeswoman Terri Wilson.

In some cases, one of these sporadically installed branches can serve “as a way to garner attention from prospective customers,” PNC spokesman Alan Aldinger says.

Part of me longs for the days of large, decked-out bank branches buzzing with human activity rather than buzzing with the sounds of cash machines. Another part of me realizes those days are long gone.

After all, we’ve evolved into an ATM culture. Armed with easy-to-use debit cards, we crave convenience and speed when it comes to accessing and spending our cash. As such, around 430,000 ATMs are scattered around the country.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I revel in the notion of squeezing into a “tiny branch” to take out a loan or check on my investments. I also don’t revel in the reality that the bank branch of my childhood and early adulthood is practically vanishing.

No doubt, I appreciate my debit card and my ability to use it at ATMs around the world. But can’t I be permitted to be just a tiny bit nostalgic about the bank branch of yesteryear? Or should I, instead, be more than a tiny bit excited about what the future holds for debit cards, ATMs and bank branches?

See related: Banks add virtual tellers as branch numbers shrink, Would you trust your card at these sketchy ATMs?

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