Banks have been criticized for neglecting low-income communities, with few branches serving these neighborhoods.
Bank on Buffalo is taking an innovative approach, spending more than $500,000 to create a mobile branch that will travel to select locations on a regular schedule.
The 34-foot-long “Bank on Wheels” offers the same services as a physical branch, including a walk-in ATM and two outdoor tellers. The interior includes a lobby, storefront and office for private conversations with an employee.
“It’s almost like a RV-like structure, but it will be a full-service bank on a set of wheels,” said Martin Griffith, head of community banking for Bank on Buffalo’s parent company, CNB Financial.
The bank hopes to put the vehicle into service just after Labor Day, once regulators give it the go-ahead.
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Bank on Buffalo has chosen three locations where the vehicle will make weekly visits: the Renovation Church at 567 Hertel Ave. in the West Hertel district; the Peter Machnica Community Center at 1799 Clinton St. in Kaisertown; and the Doris Jones Community Resource Center at 3001 Ninth Street in Niagara Falls. Bank officials say they chose locations that are underserved by other financial institutions.
Griffith said the idea for a branch on wheels grew out of conversations Bank on Buffalo officials had with community leaders a few years ago about how the bank could make its services more widely available.
“In many cases, I kept hearing that there was concern that brick and mortar might not be the answer, due to transportation issues and people not having transportation to even get to a bank,” Griffith said.
Plans for a mobile branch, capable of traveling to multiple locations, were set in motion. But supply chain issues delayed the vehicle’s build process.
The bank was eventually able to acquire a Freightliner diesel chassis, which would typically be for a delivery truck. A manufacturing company in Indiana custom-built the bank on wheels. It is now at CNB headquarters in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, undergoing final preparations.
In addition to its regular stops, Bank on Buffalo will be able to bring its vehicle to events to promote financial literacy, said Michael Noah, president of Bank on Buffalo.
Griffith said Bank on Buffalo worked with a company to ensure the mobile branch will have good security for customers and employees when parked somewhere.
The bank plans to increase the number of locations visited by mobile banking, but wants to start with a few locations to gather information, Noah said. He and Darnell Haywood, the bank’s community responsibility manager, researched potential locations before deciding on the top three.
“It was just a starting point for us,” Noah said.
Meanwhile, Bank on Buffalo’s physical branch network continues to grow. It has 12 now and plans to open a 13th early next year in Lancaster. Bank officials are looking for sites for another location.
KeyBank brought its “KeyBus,” a retrofitted transit bus, to the Buffalo area in June for a series of appearances. Key’s bus offers some branch features and has on-board computers for financial literacy programs and job search, and travels to other areas served by the bank.