Another Testimonial from the Annals of Corporate Communism

Recently I had one of the worst banking experiences possible. My boyfriend Corey and I were in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA and had to go to Washington Mutual. We walked in expecting a bank, and instead got a cross between an airport security check, a Starbucks, and a Gap. It was hideous. Once inside the initial doors to the exterior of the building, we were faced with a series of heavily locked doors framed by metal detectors and a security guard (wielding a metal detector wand) on the other side who would push a button to allow one person to go through at a time. Upon entering, we were hit with:

1) utter confusion as to where to go (there appeared to be no tellers; the only clue that we were at a bank was the very long (actually unusually long - I had flashbacks to the days of Wells Fargo giving their customers $5 if they had to wait longer than 15 minutes) line of disgruntled "clients;" and

2) exposure to that horrid Starbucks-type decoration/design that has become so tired (though was never really appealing) - the late eighties/early nineties collage-style of image and text in muted colors with that slightly brushstroke feel - YUCK! WaMu's version has collaged images of money and their logo in varying shades of greens, yellows, and purples.

We got into the long winding line and began analyzing the new circulation design that supposedly was created to increase efficiency and customer appreciation. Gone were the teller counters, replaced by tall individual rolling table/desks that resemble something like you'd find in a college dorm - and overseen by people dressed in college casual attire - khakis and polo shirts (yet another flashback to the eighties). These stations appeared to be randomly arranged in the center of the room and while there were no less than 5 people working these, the time it was taking for each transaction was excessively long as the friendly co-eds chatted it up with each "client" while those of us in line looked on in disbelief.

We witnessed two unrelated people get so pissed off that they walked over to the information desk and started yelling about how long it was taking and then when they each tried to storm out of the door to leave, their frustration only grew since they couldn't just open the door, they had to wait for the security guard to push the green button (this was rather comical). One thing that added to the extended wait was that each time a teller finished with a "client," they would have to leave their post and walk over to the line to greet the next "client" and escort them to their station. Yet, another frustrating thing is that the tellers no longer handle any money - instead you have to get a ticket from them and then take one more step (and stand in line) to put your ticket into a large machine that then dispenses cash. From start to finish our entire transaction took 40 minutes. And yes, you really do want to storm those doors to get the hell out of there after this Corporate Communist vortex. Oh, yeah, the new design is called 'Occasio' which is Latin for "favorable opportunity." And it's actually been around since the mid-late nineties.

Let me just say, this is all very disappointing to me because I do really like WaMu - or at least have, until now.

This is how WaMu describes it:

Occasio is the latest extension of Washington Mutual's sales and service culture. The bank began developing Occasio in the mid-late 1990s, basing it on nearly two years of extensive customer research and testing. Occasio financial centers actually look and feel like contemporary retail stores, which is apparent as soon as you walk through the doors. Unlike traditional branches, Occasio stores feature casually dressed, khaki-clad "concierges" who greet people and escort them to the appropriate service area. The circular design removes the traditional bank barriers, including teller windows, between customers and employees. Instead, Washington Mutual representatives greet customers at one of several "teller towers." Employees never have to count or touch money, which makes the station a lot more efficient than a teller window, and frees up the representative's time to serve the customer. Small tables and comfortable chairs are located to the side of the teller towers, and are available for customers who want an in-depth and private conversation about a certain product, home loan or credit card. Touch screens give customers the option of independently researching services. A demonstration model for, Washington Mutual's online banking option, is also available. There's even a store selling piggy banks and Washington Mutual Action Teller dolls.

"Occasio is a fresh approach to personal financial services that we believe New Yorkers will find attractive," said Senior Vice President and Group Manager John Benevento, who oversees consumer banking operations in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and Long Island. "We're raising the bar in retail banking by providing great value and friendly service to everyone, regardless of their account balance, in an inviting environment unlike anything New Yorkers have experienced."