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Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) has been undergoing a facelift for a while now, and it looks like the bandages are finally coming off. What is being revealed is a newer, more customer-friendly visage that projects its new persona -- one that considers the consumer's needs first, and exudes helpfulness -- with a hefty dose of humility thrown in for good measure.
Branches get a makeover
As the bank has cut the bloat over the past two years, it has also closed a large number of branch locations. In spite of the great strides the bank has made in the service offered at its branches, media attention most often focuses on the number of branches taken out of circulation.
While it's true that B of A closed twice as many branches last year than PNC Financial (NYSE: PNC ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) combined, the bank hasn't given up on branch locations altogether. As promised, it has closed the least used locations, while opening newer -- albeit, fewer -- spiffier branches in areas that see more foot traffic.
Last fall, B of A announced it would be opening several of these super-branches nationwide. In addition to more luxurious floor plans, these locations will serve up videoconferencing with financial specialists, and roving tellers to help cut down on waiting time. Comfy chairs will soon feature self-serve tablets for customer use, and in addition, spanking-new ATMs are coming online, too.
Advanced ATMs will feature video chats with tellers, for those times when customers need more than the standard ATM fare. The units will be available within bank buildings, as well as at drive-up and stand-alone locations. Bank of America isn't the only bank using these technological wonders. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) is rolling out some of its own interactive ATMs, which it will also use in conjunction with tablet-carrying employees at branch locations. JPMorgan's CIO envisions customers being able to initiate more complex banking activities, such as the mortgage application process, via this new system.
A combination of cost savings and attention to customers' needs
This new style of banking not only accommodates consumers' wants and needs, but also saves banks money. PNC notes that transactions costs fall dramatically from nearly $4 when a live teller is involved, to under $0.60 when customers use mobile or ATMs. While some question why B of A should put so much focus on branch banking, officials acknowledge that customers still want the experience of banking at a bricks-and-mortar location.
Paying attention to customer's concerns is becoming part and parcel of what Bank of America does these days, as evidenced further by its new marketing campaign that positions the bank as a facet of its customers' lives, helping them glide through life while offering assistance at every stage, in a sort of business-lifestyle type of partnership.
Sound a little overdone? Perhaps, but don't fault the big guy for it. The bank's management knows there is much work to be done in order to heal old wounds with its customers and the general public, and it is making a mighty effort. Considering all the bitterness the bank has engendered over the past few years, a little extra syrupy sweetness might be just what the banking doctor ordered.
Bank of America's stock doubled in 2012, and, as the big bank's relationship with consumers heals, more of the same may be in store for this year. With significant challenges still ahead, however, it's critical to have a solid understanding of this megabank before adding it to your portfolio. In The Motley Fool's premium research report on B of A, analysts Anand Chokkavelu, CFA, and Matt Koppenheffer, Financials bureau chief, lift the veil on the bank's operations, including detailing three reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Click here now to claim your copy.