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A BANK'S BOLD MOVE: IT'S OPENING ITS DOORS TO THE WORKING CLASS

IF YOU ARE not already sitting, please do so. Because the shock effect of the following information may cause you to stagger.

As part of its new "customer-friendly" policy, Goldome bank -- which brought back the free toaster as a new-account lure -- will allow its branches to set their own operating hours.

The ramifications make one's head spin.

Imagine, banks that are open not when it is convenient for their managers and employees, but for actual customers.

What a concept.

We applaud the radical thinker who came up with this one. It is not often one sees this sort of sensitivity in the customer service field.

But, hey, this is 1989. Goldome is prepared to fling open its doors at times when it might actually be possible for the 9-to-5 worker to stop in without sacrificing part of a lunch hour or risking his or her job.

"It seems people have an interest in banking on their own terms," said Edward K. Duch, vice president of consumer banking at Goldome. "We want to stop making decisions based on what some people in high towers think. . . . It's no different than a retailer adjusting hours to fit customer needs."

The branch response has already begun.

By mid-June, Goldome will have seven branches open on Saturday, a practice that virtually disappeared about a decade ago. A few of its city offices have opened their drive-through windows at 8 a.m.

We are not yet prepared to call it a banking revolution, but it is one small step for mankind in Western New York.

For reasons that escape logic, banks usually are open only when it is convenient for retirees, night-shift workers, bored housewives/husbands, the idle rich and the unemployed.

True, some banks preceded Goldome in extending banking hours. Most banks are open until at least 6 p.m. on Fridays, and some -- Empire of America probably leads the way here -- stay open late on Thursday. As for 8 a.m. openings, M&T has a few branches open that early, but this is basically uncharted territory.

If other public service businesses were to adopt similar policies, restaurants would close from 5 to 8 p.m., department stores would lock their doors on Saturday and movie houses would schedule the day's final showing at 6 p.m.

Back in the old days, which are defined as when Ward and June Cleaver were on prime time TV, banking hours were not such a problem.

Ward went to work and June could usually find a few minutes between cooking and laundry duties to stop at the local branch, even though it probably closed for lunch.

These days, in many cases, Ward and June both work. Although closing time has been stretched to 4:30, that is not much help when one's nit-picking boss insists on a full eight hours of labor daily.

For years, a number of banks in New York City have been open from 7 to 7 or thereabouts. A 9-to-5er can stop in before or after work. No need to spend lunch hour between velvet ropes or make the mad rush when the boss steps out.

In these parts, one could more easily find a bank that pays 8 percent interest on savings accounts than one that opens at 8 a.m.

Goldome has taken a few tentative steps down the new trail. The others are huddled behind it, monitoring its progress.

"What if you start with a new schedule and find out nobody comes?" asked Judi Nolan, a Marine Midland spokeswoman. "How do you know for sure? Somebody has to take that first risk."

There are, of course, the automatic teller machines. Surveys have shown, however, that most folks don't use them. Those who do usually withdraw money, seldom deposit it.

It is easy to figure out why. As we all suspect, the day we first chance a deposit, especially a cash deposit, with an ATM is the day the machine pops a byte, shreds the receipt and melts our card. The bank swallows our $200, and all we have to show for it is confetti and a glob of goo.

People need bank tellers, which means they need banks open when they can get to them.

If you would like to see your bank open at 8 a.m., or stay open until, say, 6 p.m. on a few weekday nights, drop off a copy of this column at the local branch.

Who knows? Maybe someday people who work 9 to 5 -- and rumor has it there are a few -- will be able to bank on the way to, or home from, work. And have a relaxing lunch hour. And not have to wait for the boss's back to turn to sneak out.

Or maybe the whole idea depends too much on a customer service concept in historically short supply in banking history.

We are referring to common sense.

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