A Bankerless Bank Hub

By Evan Sparks

“I want to move all my business to you,” Laura Massenat told Jill Castilla. They were sharing drinks at Massenat’s Elemental Coffee in one of Oklahoma City’s hippest neighborhoods. Castilla was surprised—her bank, Citizens Bank of Edmond, has a single location 15 miles away from Midtown. “How are you going to get cash and coin?” she wondered.

But she started to think about how to make it work. Could she put a mini-vault in the coffee shop? It wasn’t big enough. But Castilla wouldn’t need a lot of space—just a couple hundred square feet to house the technology. Another Citizens Bank customer was in the shop, and as it turned out, the person he was sharing a cup of Joe with had some vacant real estate across the street. They checked it out right then and there. It was 1,000 square feet in a handsome corner building—just what Castilla needed.

“Midtown Bank” prepares to open its doors.

This month, that new location will open. It’s not a branch—it’s completely unmanned. Instead Castilla calls it a “bank hub” or an “unbank.” Citizens Bank of Edmond deliberately closed down branches several years ago as part of a turnaround effort, and it had replaced those locations with interactive teller machines developed in-house to save money.

Castilla would bring that enterprising spirit to outfitting the new bank hub, which is the first of its kind in her market. In addition to an ITM served during regular business hours by staff at the main location, the space will also include a custom-designed machine that disburses rolled coin and accepts coin deposits, which is important for the cafes, restaurants and bars that populate Midtown. “We developed technology using some partners outside the financial sector to have a mechanism where she can get rolled coin,” Castilla says. “It’s really difficult to find ITMs that provide rolled coin access.” Customers can access the space 24/7 using their mobile phones—an innovation that allows a business owner to delegate access to an employee without having to hand over a debit card.

The space also includes a conference room that customers can access for meetings. Elemental Coffee is “the epicenter of all economic activity in Oklahoma City,” Castilla says. The conference room allows customers doing a deal to walk across the street and have “that next-level conversation outside of the coffee shop.”

Word spread fast about the new space, and Castilla says it paid for itself before it even opened. “Suddenly we had tons of loans being referred to us,” she says, noting that by launch time, there were more than $15 million in loans attached to the site.

The bank hub—which, since it does not have in-person staff or serve non-customers through account openings, does not count as a branch for regulatory purposes—reflects Castilla’s commitment to serving greater Oklahoma City’s small businesses. She arranges viral social media “cash mobs” at which bank staff and others descend upon one of Citizens Bank’s customers en masse.

Even though Midtown is far from the suburban area of Edmond, Castilla has also focused her efforts there. Years ago, she got a call from a Midtown food truck festival on a Wednesday—their ATM provider had backed out two days before the event. “I’ll make it happen and I’ll get ATMs to you!” she said, and she did. In 2014, those Midtown businesses helped Castilla launch Heard on Hurd, an award-winning monthly music and food truck party hosted in downtown Edmond by Citizens Bank.

The bank hub is just the latest chapter in that story. It provides “a space for small business owners who need that access to cash but want a community bank feel,” Castilla says.

Learn more by listening to Castilla on the ABA Banking Journal Podcast.


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