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|Washington Mutual Announces Plans for Branded Retail Banking Concept In Atlanta; ''Occasio'' Unlike Anything Metro Area Has Ever Seen|
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 17, 2001--Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM) aims to remix the balance sheet of Atlanta's banking industry.
One year after launching its "Occasio" retail banking concept in Las Vegas, Washington Mutual, Inc. (NYSE:WM) today announced plans to roll out its inviting banking approach across the greater Atlanta area with a network of 60 - 80 Occasio stores projected to open within the next several years. Washington Mutual currently has three home loan centers in Atlanta.
"Occasio," a Latin noun for "favorable opportunity," represents a dramatic shift from traditional bank branches in look, feel and service. Rather than directing customers out to the ATMs, Occasio takes its cues from cutting edge retailers, using an open, welcoming environment and top-notch customer service to draw people into the financial center. The complete package is unlike anything else the banking industry is offering.
"We're setting a new standard in retail banking by combining WaMu's proven sales and service culture with a contemporary retail look and feel," said Deanna Oppenheimer, president of Banking and Financial Services for Washington Mutual. "Our innovative use of people, technology and design elements unite to provide something that banks have never consistently delivered: an inviting customer experience."
Occasio is the latest extension of Washington Mutual's sales and service culture, which the bank introduced nearly two decades ago and continues to build upon. "We began developing Occasio in the mid-late 1990s, basing it on nearly two years of extensive customer research and testing," said Oppenheimer. "While other banks were debating clicks versus bricks, our findings showed that customers preferred our brand of high-touch customer service over anything else. The timing was perfect to introduce a new concept that used technology to enhance the customer experience, not replace it."
To date the bank has opened 16 Occasio financial stores in Las Vegas and the first eight of 40 in Phoenix. Results have been so promising and customer feedback so positive that Washington Mutual today announced it will consider bringing Occasio to any market that has a densely populated metro area, good job and household growth, and a diversified economy. Atlanta is Washington Mutual's first Occasio market east of the Mississippi.
Washington Mutual will enter Atlanta with an entire package of customer-driven products and services, including free checking and online banking; surcharge free ATMs; responsive, individual customer service; unlimited free access to tellers and customer service representatives; and a host of banking options and choices that let the customer decide how, when and where they want to do business.
Washington Mutual will also play an active part in the Atlanta community through homeownership and education initiatives. The openings are expected to create 500 - 700 new jobs within the next several years.
The Occasio Difference
Occasio financial centers actually look and feel like contemporary retail stores, which is apparent as soon as you walk through the doors. Customers accustomed to traditional branches will be surprised when a casually dressed, khaki-clad "concierge" greets them and then escorts them to the appropriate service area. Unlike traditional bank branches, there are no teller counters in sight. Representatives staff customer consultation areas where a customer can open a checking account or apply for a loan. There is also a special area where customers can sit down with a financial consultant from Washington Mutual's brokerage company to discuss investment opportunities.
"SmartTouch" touchscreens are available for those who want to learn more about bank products either independently or with a representative, and Internet access to wamu.com is also available. A team of customer service representatives, who are also casually dressed, staffs the floor. Some carry mobile hand-held computer devices to assist customers with transactions right on the spot, others offer assistance from various workstations.
Traditional teller windows have been removed eliminating the long lines typically associated with banks. Instead, money is dispensed automatically from state-of-the-art "teller towers" where customer service representatives and customers can more easily interact. The towers not only eliminate the need to count out money, they also free up the representative's time so they're readily available to serve the customer.
A retail sales area is stocked with consumer-oriented financial products such as software, books and magazines to help customers plan their financial goals. There's even a children's play area called WaMu Kids.
"Occasio isn't just about changing the physical appearance of our stores," said Oppenheimer. "It's a holistic approach that incorporates a myriad of enhancements that are based on what customers told us they wanted. Our survey results tell us these financial centers are performing at the pinnacle of service excellence."
With a history dating back to 1889, Washington Mutual is a financial services company that provides a diversified line of products and services to consumers and small- to mid-sized businesses. At March 31, 2001, Washington Mutual and its subsidiaries had assets of $219.93 billion. Washington Mutual currently operates more than 2,300 consumer banking, mortgage lending, commercial banking, consumer finance and financial services offices throughout the nation. For more information, please visit Washington Mutual on the web at www.wamu.com. Editor's Note: Washington Mutual's news releases are available at no charge through the company's News On Demand Plus System. For a menu of Washington Mutual news releases or to retrieve a specific release, call 1-800-329-6236. On the Internet, news releases may be accessed at http://www.businesswire.com/cnn/wm.shtml