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VOL. 9 | NO. 38 | Saturday, September 17, 2016

First Tennessee Bank Opens First Local Branch in a Decade in Arlington

By K. Denise Jennings

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After a decade of acquisitions and renovations of existing branches, Memphis-based First Tennessee Bank has opened its first new West Tennessee branch in Arlington.

First Tennessee's new Arlington location features a new prototype that does away with traditional tellers and cubicles.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

The new branch is a prototype of new technology and customer service built around better serving the customer, and the location chosen is a nod to the significant business and household growth that First Tennessee has seen in the town of Arlington.

Over the last five years, the bank has made three acquisitions throughout Tennessee and the Carolinas with a focus on optimizing its branch network.

“We’re expanding our footprint, but we’re doing it in a smart way,” said Ben Hopper, First Tennessee’s vice president of retail strategy and transformation.

Opening new physical branches is not a trend in the banking industry, so the expansion is significant.

“The choice to put a branch in Arlington is based on analyzing household growth and demographic trends,” said Dave Miller, executive vice president of consumer banking at First Tennessee. “We scan all of our markets across the state and the Carolinas for growth and gaps in service, and Arlington fit that mold.”

Hopper added that while the banking industry talks a lot about digital channels, 90 percent of First Tennessee customers visit a branch at least once a year.

“We are trying to respond to the need for digital banking but still serving face to face,” he said.

Tonia Howell, director at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said First Tennessee’s decision to plant a flag in the town “speaks to the fact that Arlington is a vibrant and growing community.”

The new branch will feature a new design and technology along with new ways of serving customers that First Tennessee has been testing at various branches for the past several years. The new design does away with the traditional teller row and cubicle desks and utilizes the smaller space in the branch more efficiently. Drive-thru banking uses video technology instead of the traditional window, which helps with traffic flow and a less restrictive design of the physical building.

New cash-recycling machines do away with tellers having to count cash, sometimes as many as 12 times between when it enters and exits the bank, which ensures accuracy and security and frees up tellers to serve the customers more personally.

Everyone in the front of the bank is now a universal banker, trained to meet the customer at the door with the authority to meet all of their needs – wearing every hat from teller to account opener to loan originator. Customer service pods are positioned around the bank lobby, and desks have a round design so the banker and customer are side by side looking at a screen as they work, instead of across the barriers that traditionally have been in banks.

“When a customer makes a decision to come to a branch, they’ve made a decision to bypass the digital platform, so we want our employees to understand that,” said Hopper. “We’ve designed our bank branches specifically around people talking to people.”

The new Arlington branch is 2,500 square feet, compared with the traditional 6,000 square feet of older branches. Hopper said this design is more efficient and increases the energy within the bank.

“Overall branch usage is down, so we have a 6,000-square-foot branch with less people coming through and using it, and it drains some energy,” he said. “Shrinking the lobby and putting everyone in charge of relationships coupled with real music from a curated playlist brings a fresh energy to the experience.”

Many of the same concepts in the new prototype will be used as First Tennessee retrofits newly acquired and older branches. The customer pods and cash-recycling machines have already been moved into about two-thirds of the company’s financial centers, said Miller.

While the face-to-face aspect of serving customers is the focus of the new Arlington branch design, First Tennessee has also made a major commitment to expanding their digital platform as well, said Hopper. Branches now have digital delegates, one person in each location completely trained on digital platforms and able to teach customers how to use the digital channels that the bank offers.

“It’s bricks and clicks merged together.”

In addition to the customer service and technology aspect of a bank, community involvement and investment is an important aspect of banking institutions, and that’s always been a focus at First Tennessee, Hopper said. The Arlington location, along with several other First Tennessee branches, features local artwork and community connection boards with postings for local fundraisers and events.

“We make a commitment to support the communities that we serve.”

Miller agreed, saying, “Our philosophy is that we’re only as successful as the community around us, and having people that live in the area and are connected to the community they work in is important.”

Howell, meanwhile, said First Tennessee’s commitment speaks volumes about the growth anticipated in Arlington.

“Since I’ve been at the chamber for the past three years, the biggest question I have been asked is, ‘When is First Tennessee coming to Arlington?’” she said.

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