Citizens Bank Brings Dollars to Donuts

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Citizens Bank (Stock Quote: RBS) has it figured out.

Instead of trying to get customers to come to them, they're going to customers.

The result? A new bank customer service center at Dunkin Donuts, one of the most popular donut stops in the U.S. The move is part of a pilot project in Boston, Citizens Bank’s home, but if debit cards and donuts are a good mix, look for more banks to follow suit.

Combining banks and retailers is hardly new. Most major grocery chains have in-and-out banking centers on the premises, allowing shoppers to grab some cash or make a deposit before they hit the produce section. Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT) has its ubiquitous Money Center, where customers can cash checks, get a money order, pay a bill or make a money transfer. And Capital One (Stock Quote: COF) and Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) share a New York retail space.

But grocery stores and Wal-Marts have plenty of space to spare, so having a bank on site is hardly noticeable.

Not so at a small donut shop – where depositors will presumably rub elbows with bagel-noshers and java junkies.

How does Citizens plan to handle the space issue? The bank isn’t holding back, with a full-service branch inside a Bellingham, Mass.-based Dunkin Donuts. The branch has three teller windows, a full-service ATM and is open seven days a week. Office hours will be from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., bank officials say.

To lure more customers out of the donut line and into the bank, Citizens is offering customers a $50 discount for a new home equity loan, as well as free coffee for a month for opening a new checking account.

Can it work? It’s too soon to say. Citizens only has plans for one pilot store, but says it will expand into more Dunkin Donuts if the demand is there. From a marketing standpoint, though, why shouldn’t it work? Banks and donut shops share a customer commonality – both are quick, in-and-out stops. If grabbing a bear claw and a latté while depositing a check saves a customer a stop, then Citizens may really be on to something.

As for more banks taking similar steps, the template already exists, and the retailers don’t seem to mind – so why not? Besides, it’s not like we’ll soon see armies of bankers waking up in the morning, rubbing the sleep from their eyes and announcing, “it’s time to make the CDs”.

But who knows? After all, as Homer Simpson once said, “Donuts ... is there nothing they can’t do?"

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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