Androscoggin Bank is making its first foray into Portland, but you might miss it if you look for the familiar line of tellers perched behind a wall. The Lewiston-based bank plans to unveil this fall an Old Port location featuring an open layout that encourages interaction, with free-standing customer service “pods” and floating “financial services reps,” according to Paul Andersen, the bank’s COO.

The bank has invested more than $500,000 in the 5,000-square-foot space at Middle and Pearl streets, Andersen said. The look will be more Apple Store than stuffy traditional bank branch. “This is more like a living room feel,” he said. “Our people will stand next to customers instead of having a barrier between them.”

Other familiar divisions have been phased out as well. Bank representatives will be able to handle just about any personal banking request, from setting up a personal loan or small investment to cashing checks and opening up a debit card account. Some staff will continue to focus on commercial lending, setting up trusts and other specialized services.

New “cash recyclers” – hybrid ATMs that can handle all the same services as a traditional teller line – will replace cash drawers. The technology is part of the bank’s strategy to address its customers’ shift from cash and paper to Internet-based services, Andersen said. “The way people buy bank services is changing dramatically,” he said. “We’re trying to build this for the future.”

Androscoggin isn’t the only institution that’s caught on to the trend. Town & Country Federal Credit Union recently completed a major renovation at its Scarborough branch that also features a pod system and cross-trained representatives, according to a statement.

Norway Savings Bank in November broke ground at a Yarmouth location that incorporates the pods, as well as self-service safe deposit boxes that customers can access through biometric scanning technology, a company statement said.

The investment in more personal service comes as many larger banks reeling from the financial crisis struggle to stay afloat. But business has been good at Androscoggin Bank, where income is up 10 percent over last year and the bottom line in 2009 so far is ahead of budget, Andersen said. The new branch will employ at least two additional staff immediately, with plans for more throughout the year.

And taxpayers aren’t funding any of the expansion at 130 Middle St., Andersen said. “We said thanks but no thanks to the bailout dollars.”

While other financial institutions cut back or hold the line, Androscoggin Bank, which has a dozen branches in southern and central Maine, wants to expand its presence. “We just see this as the perfect time for us, the perfect time to expand,” he said.

This story was used with the permission of MaineBiz.

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