A new type of bank branch opens in west Lawrence, while 2 other branches close on south Iowa Street

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Bank of America's newest branch in Lawrence will open at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive in west Lawrence on Nov. 30, 2020.

There certainly have been times I’ve entered a bank branch worried that my account will be empty. Now, it appears there are times I may enter a bank branch to find the actual branch empty — as in no employees. Indeed, Bank of America is opening a new type of branch in Lawrence.

The company on Monday will open a new branch at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is next door to the Starbucks just east of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

4701 Bauer Farm Dr, Lawrence, KS 66049

Bank of America officials call the new branch an “Advanced Center.” That’s a reference to the technology inside the branch that allows it to operate without any employees at the branch.

That means you could walk in, go to one of the two private conference rooms, close the door, and tap a button on one of the iPads waiting for you. A personal banker at a remote location then pops onto a television screen to have a conversation with you. Some tasks can be as simple as changing the information on your account, while others may be more complex, like taking out a home equity loan. (I’m guessing 80% of those conversations will begin with, “So, I was next door and ordered a Grande . . .”)

“It is definitely a little bit different than your prototypical branch,” Mike Kobriger, a consumer regional executive with Bank of America told me.

He said the company will continue to operate its traditional branch bank near Ninth and Ohio streets, just outside the downtown area. But he said Bank of America — which is the second largest bank in America but until now has had only one Lawrence location — is excited to get into west Lawrence.

He said the idea of making the new location an “Advanced Center” made sense because Lawrence is full of people who like technology.

“There are so many college kids who love technology and flexibility,” Kobriger said. “We thought it was a good way to expand our network in a town like Lawrence.”

Interestingly, the advanced centers may end up appealing to people on the other end of the spectrum — people who don’t like some of the Zoom technology or banking via a computer app. Kobriger said those people may find the advanced centers to be more comfortable than a fully-online experience. The videoconferencing technology at the centers is meant to be simple, and customers don’t have to set up an appointment to have a conference. If the conference room isn’t already occupied, you can enter and start your own conference immediately.

Plus, there will be multiple times that the centers do have employees present. The center will be staffed daily with employees for the first two weeks after its initial opening. After that, plans call for the Lawrence center to have an employee on site Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In terms of getting into the facility when there are no employees there, you will use a debit card to trigger a keycard reader at the front door. It looks like videoconferencing services will be available until 6 p.m. on most days, but cardholders will have 24-hour access to the ATM machines, which are also advanced and allow for more than just withdrawing or depositing money.

It looks like Lawrence will be the second city in the state to get an advanced center from Bank of America, which began rolling out the concept in 2017. The company recently opened one of the high-tech branches in Overland Park. In addition to the Lawrence branch, the company has openings scheduled for Wichita and Derby in the near future.

As for how prevalent these type of branches will become, Kobriger said they are major initiatives in the company. The branches do cost less to operate than a traditional branch. However, he said the traditional branch staffed with in-person employees isn’t slated to disappear.

“The foundation will continue to be the prototypical financial center,” Kobringer said. “But there is a balance there with customers. We will continue to have those traditional financial centers for people who want that type of interaction. But there is a need here too because we have clients who say they like this model and this type of interaction.”

•••

In other banking news, I have word of two Lawrence branches that are permanently closing. Bank Midwest closed its large facility at 31st and Iowa streets, while US Bank has closed its small branch near 27th and Iowa streets, in front of the shopping center that has Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers.

It has been a little tough to keep up with the activity of banks during the pandemic. There certainly are other branches around town that currently are closed. However, I’m noting these two because they have taken the extra step of announcing that they have no plans to reopen the branches once the pandemic is over.

Both companies, however, will continue to have other locations in operation in Lawrence. For Bank Midwest — which came to the Lawrence market in 2018 when it bought Peoples Bank — the closure does leave it with just one brick-and mortar location in town. That one is near Sixth and Wakarusa at 4831 W. Sixth St.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Bank Midwest closed its large branch at 3045 Iowa St. last month, bank officials have confirmed.

The 31st and Iowa location will continue to have an active ATM, as will a location at 745 New Hampshire, which previously housed a downtown branch for Bank Midwest.

Warner Lewis, a Lawrence-based spokesman for the bank, said the decision to close the branch at 3045 Iowa St. came as more customers are turning to their smartphones and other mobile devices to interact with their banks.

“That growth has been pretty impressive,” Lewis said of people banking through digital means.

But Lewis said the latest branch closure shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that Bank Midwest, which is part of Colorado-based National Bank Holdings Corp., has cooled on the Lawrence market.

“The commitment to the market remains steadfast,” Lewis said.

Many of the same reasons are in play at US Bank. Joan Golden, a Lawrence-based spokeswoman for the bank, said there had been an “incredible shift in consumer behavior” to mobile and digital banking options.

Golden said via email that US Bank decided to close the location after taking into consideration that it has another bank branch relatively close by at 23rd Street and Ridge Court.

Golden said the 27th and Iowa location is the only US Bank branch that has been slated for permanent closure, although some branches have seen temporary closures during the pandemic. The company’s website lists nine branches and ATM locations in Lawrence.

No word yet on what the two banks plan to do with the buildings and real estate, both of which have highly visible locations along south Iowa Street.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

US Bank closed its branch at 27th and Iowa streets in Lawrence earlier this year. A shift toward more mobile and digital banking was behind the decision, a bank spokeswoman said.

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