Fidelity Bank’s branch of the future is today at 31st, Seneca

Fidelity Bank’s idea for the future of retail banking means rethinking how its branches look and operate as well as the roles of the people who staff them.

On Monday, Fidelity Bank will unveil that concept with the opening of a 3,400-square-foot branch at 3128 S. Seneca.

The new branch eliminates some of the traditional trappings of Fidelity’s older branches, such as teller counters. They’re replaced by computer workstations, leather-covered chairs and tables, private offices and even couches.

Outside, in the three drive-through lanes, the old vacuum tube system has been replaced with what Fidelity calls “interactive banking machines.” The machines function like an ATM but also allow customers to see and talk to an “interactive banker” on a television screen who is located miles away from the branch.

Eventually, Fidelity executives said, all its drive-throughs will have these machines.

This, said Fidelity chief operating officer Michele Kyle, is the future of branch banking for consumers. The new concept, Kyle and other bank executives said, reflects two years of research, focus groups and customer feedback into changing consumer preferences.

“That means what happens inside the branch is more consultative,” she said.

A more seismic change in Fidelity’s thinking about the future is the creation of “universal bankers.” They are essentially replacing the traditional branch teller and personal banker.

The universal banker, Kyle said, can open new accounts, perform complex transactions and help prepare consumer loans, but also assist with cashing checks and making deposits. They have more autonomy than tellers and three times as much training, she said.

From the time customers enter the branch to when they leave, a universal banker will be by their side, said retail operations manager Shane Stuhlsatz.

The new position, combined with the interactive banking machines, will eventually mean Fidelity’s branch operations will be more efficient, Kyle said.

Yes, there will be fewer people working at a branch, Fidelity president Aaron Bastian said, but those people who are working at the branch will be better compensated because of their additional skills.

That doesn’t mean Fidelity is eliminating the teller position. Some of them will move to the bank’s downtown headquarters, where it has refurbished space for a new call center.

The center, which opened last month, is where those tellers will work as Fidelity’s interactive bankers. They will greet customers who are using the interactive banking machines outside the branch.

“It’s a simpler, safer model,” Bastian said.

The interactive banking machines will be staffed by live, remote bankers on weekdays until 6 p.m. and three hours on Saturday mornings.

That center also will eventually serve Fidelity customers as far away as Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Bastian said.

It’s an operation that won’t be outsourced, Kyle added.

“We’re keeping everything in Wichita,” she said.

Expanding the concept

Bastian and Kyle said the new branch concept is being introduced at 31st and Seneca because its existing branch at 3101 S. Seneca is too small for the volume of business it’s seeing there.

“It’s our busiest branch in the system,” Bastian said.

And Kyle said because of that, the new branch concept “would be tested well by this customer base.”

Parts of the new branch concept will be introduced shortly at three other area Fidelity branches. Branches at 3525 E. Harry and 2265 N. Amidon are currently undergoing interior remodeling, and both will receive interactive banking machines in their drive-throughs.

And Fidelity’s branch at 255 N. Rock in Derby will be replaced by a new branch at Rock and Cambridge, which Fidelity officials said will share the new South Seneca branch design.

Within the next two years, Fidelity plans to install interactive banking machines at all of its 20 branches in the Wichita area, Oklahoma City and Kansas City.

Along with that, the bank will remodel a “majority” of those branches to incorporate the new concept and re-train staff as universal bankers.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark