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Wells Fargo thinks small for new branches

Wells Fargo said Friday that it is testing a new type of branch, one that will be about one-third the size of a normal branch.

But don’t look for the smaller branches to debut in Charlotte anytime soon.

Wells has picked Washington, D.C., to open the first such branch, which it is calling a “neighborhood bank format.” The Washington branch is set to open Monday.

Josh Dunn, Wells Fargo spokesman, told the Observer that the company does not have plans at this time to open the smaller branches in the Carolinas.

“We remain committed to our current network of stores and ATMs we have in place across North Carolina and South Carolina,” Dunn said in an emailed statement.

It’s unclear in what other markets the new branches will go.

San Francisco-based Wells said the branches will be roughly 1,000 square feet and feature ATMs with larger screens. That compares with 3,000 to 4,000 square feet for a traditional branch. The company said the branches, though smaller, will have spaces where bank employees can talk about clients’ finances in private.

Also, in a practice that’s becoming a trend for some banks, Wells will equip employees working in the new branches with tablet computers to serve customers. Bank of America, in some of its Charlotte branches, such as the one at Founders Hall in uptown, already is using tablets to assist customers.

The tactic allows Wells to open stores in places where it might not have the space for a traditional branch. And the move comes as Wells has been looking for ways to reduce its expenses.

Wells CEO John Stumpf, in a first-quarter earnings call Friday, said the company does not have a plan for how many neighborhoods will have the smaller branches versus the traditional ones. But, he said, Wells Fargo is finding that even younger customers who tend to prefer mobile and self-service forms of banking “still want and need” branches.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; On Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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