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Texas Bank Hits the Road With Mobile Branch

June 13, 1991

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) _ Kids who demand rides and adults who ask for a hot dog or a snow cone when they see the red double-decker bus pull up are out of luck. Those who ask for money, though, get served.

The First National Bank of Amarillo hit the road this spring with a fully mobile branch.

″We can cash checks, conduct deposits, withdrawals, everything that we do at a branch bank,″ says Millie Bingham, First National vice president in charge of marketing.

The bus, nicknamed Bob the Bankwagon, takes three tellers and an armed guard on a daily tour of company parking lots, retirement homes, parks and other public places. People don’t know quite what to think.

″We had a guy come up and order a cheeseburger and fries the other day,″ said Margaret Ward, head teller. ″They will catch on eventually.″

″When you get up close, you see it’s too fancy to be selling hot dogs,″ said Lawrence Hagy, a 92-year-old oilman.

″I just walked up and deposited my money as easily as if I were at a downtown office,″ he said. ″It’s a very smooth operation.″

″In my day you would have never expected to see a double decker bus as a bank. Sometimes you would have to drive and drive to get to a bank. Now it drives to you,″ he said. ″It’s simply amazing.″

Inside Bob, adding machines, a mobile phone and a fax machine are attached to counters with Velcro. A computer is linked to the main office by microwave.

Two windows on the side are for walk-up transactions and a window at the back delivers drive-up service. There’s also an automatic teller machine.

Loan applications are handled on the upper deck, which has a couch, two chairs, a kitchen and a bathroom.

Joseph Burbridge, a bank examiner in the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Dallas, helped approve First National mobile branch.

″We handle all types of applications, but I have never seen anything like this,″ he said.

First National and a bank in Tennessee are the only U.S. banks with staffed mobile branches, he said.

Some competing banks have joked about putting tacks in the road to let the air out of Bob’s tires.

Driving the bus is hard enough already, said Jerry Polvado, First National’s senior vice president. It’s taller than most trees in Amarillo, its steering wheel is on the right, it’s slow and it won’t fit just anywhere.

″We have to pick our parking spots carefully,″ Polvado said. ″We try and take the back streets to wherever we’re going. Bob’s no speed burner.″

Silly as a branch on a bus may sound, Don Powell, the bank’s chief executive officer, hopes it will turn out to be an effective marketing vehicle.

″We are looking at this as a real moneymaker for us,″ he said. ″We want it to be fun, but it is also serious business.″

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