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My Dad was born in Oswego, New York, but lived almost all his life in Philadelphia. As a young man in 1910, one of his first jobs was at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank. He was a check sorter. No numbers on the bottom of those checks in those days - just the bank name and address. When the checks from local banks arrived at the end of the day, Dad was one of the people who hand sorted them to go to the banks they were drawn on for collection. The runners all congregated at a local restaurant while they waited for their checks to be returned to their own banks, and many times Dad said he would just carry bundles of checks over to the restaurant and give them to the appropriate runner. Non-local checks were mailed most of the time.

Dad finally retired from banking at the age of 87. He was a mortgage officer at the time at a savings and loan. He used to tell me about banking the way it "...used to be in the good old days..." back when. When he first started doing settlements, there were three pieces of paper to sign - one of them a mimeograph master. (Dad's S & L was way ahead of its time!) The most important part of the mortgage deal was the handshake.

Other areas had "different" ways too. Customers sometimes found it difficult to keep track of passbooks, so there was always one drawer of a desk where passbooks could be kept for the convenience of people who wanted to make a deposit or withdrawal. All bookkeeping and entries were done in pen and ink. (Ballpoints had not yet been invented.) Settlement at the end of the day was mandatory. And nobody left the office until everyone had settled - not a popular feature on Friday night.

I've had opportunities as I've traveled the country talking to bankers to learn about some other old ways of banking. For instance, in Tennessee, one lady told me her local bank was owned by a husband and wife who liked to go to lunch together back to their house. So they would lock the door, and on a table outside the door, in a covered old ice cube tray, they would leave $25 in currency and change. If someone wanted to cash a check or make a withdrawal while they were at lunch, they just did their own transaction and left a note for the bankers on the table. They were never robbed of their $25 in all the years they owned the bank.

Safe deposit keys were also sometimes kept at the branch office, on a board inside the vault on nails, with the box holder's name under the key. That way if entry was desired, the renter didn't have to hunt for the key - or worry about losing it. Worked for them!.

The thing that started me remembering all these things was an article about a new branch bank that opened in Philadelphia on April 9. Bank of America's description of its new Columbus Commons banking center is that "...its new design and cutting edge technology offers customers the highest standards of service, access, and convenience."

Referred to as "The Next Generation of Banking", the office has over 4,500 sq. ft. of space, seven teller stations, two customer service units, four personal bankers and a customer assistance station. Outside is a walk-up, a drive-up ATM, and a night depository. Inside is an open floor plan which includes a section where customers can relax in a sitting area that features a media wall with periodicals, financial planning resources and a TV.

A host who greets customers as they enter will determine their needs. They will then be guided to the teller line, or a glass enclosed conference room for private financial discussions, or one of several innovative technology stations that offer such features as multilingual telephone banking and web-based computer terminals providing access to account information. Safe Deposit boxes are now accessed through an electronic palm reader.

We've come a long, long way from when Dad was sorting checks. Would he like the new bank? He might. His grandchildren will be right at home in one like it. And they'll never have to worry about losing a safe deposit key.

Copyright © 2005 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 15, No. 3, 4/05

First published on 04/01/2005

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