When natural disasters happen and power is out for days, how do customers get access to emergency banking services?
How often can residents in a “bank desert,” which is frequently also a low-income community, travel to the nearest branch miles away?
The mobile bank branch — which has been around for more than seven decades — has enjoyed an uptick in interest lately, as executives at financial institutions see it as a practical solution to challenges like these.
Another contributing factor is that banks and credit unions have been trimming their brick-and-mortar branch networks.
A Growing Trend:
The number of U.S. bank branches are dwindling. A mobile bank branch can be a low-cost solution for customers who still want in-person banking.
That trend is widely expected to continue, with industry observers like Andrew Hovet, a director at the analytics and technology company Curinos, predicting the number of U.S. bank branches will continue to shrink by 2% to 3% annually.
“There are a lot of branches closing everywhere, so financial institutions are looking for other ways to reach out to these smaller communities where it just doesn’t make sense to have a brick-and-mortar branch anymore,” says Matt Fuller, president of the mobile branch manufacturer Mobile Facilities in Elkhart, Indiana.
Fuller told the Wisconsin Bankers Association in an interview that he has seen order requests increase for this reason.
A mobile branch from his company can take up to nine months to design and build. The cost runs roughly $160,000 for a 23-foot vehicle and up to $300,000 for a 40-foot vehicle fully decked out with restrooms, furniture and fixtures, air conditioning, generators — even wheelchair lifts on some of the bigger units.
There are just a few vehicle manufacturers that specialize in mobile bank branches, with Fuller and MBF Industries in Sanford, Fla., prominent in the United States. GS Mobile, headquartered in Germany, is active abroad.
You might assume if you’ve seen one mobile branch, you’ve seen them all. Most are simply a custom RV, with a comfortable space inside that serves as an office where a customer can meet with a banker. Typically, there is a window through which one or two employees serve customers standing outside. Some also have ATMs built into the exterior.
But financial institutions can add some flair to make their mobile branches stand out. Here are 14 that got our attention.
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This mobile bank branch isn’t drivable, but it is towable. The Basellandschaftlichen Kantonal Bank — one of 24 cantonal banks in Switzerland — has a trailer that it can deploy throughout its market area. (These retail banks are uniquely Swiss, with each of the country’s regional governments, called “cantons,” owning a significant stake in the bank serving its region.)
Kantonal Bank’s trailer carries two ATM/ITM systems that are accessible from the exterior. Both are built into the side of the mobile branch, with the one toward the front end at a height low enough to be used by someone standing at ground level and the one towards the rear requiring one step up.
You might think the trailer is too small to fit much inside. However, the interior features a front desk, a seating area and a separate office space to accommodate private conversations.
The main entry to the vehicle is low to the ground, when compared to some other mobile branches, but customers do need to take one step up to go inside.
Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union
We’ll move on from the mobile branch that gets towed to one that does the towing.
Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union employees can drive its mobile branch to any location where it’ll temporarily be open for business. Even if it stays parked in one spot for the duration, employees can still have some mobility while on site.
That’s because a secondary vehicle can come along for the ride, atop a trailer hitched to the mobile branch. If you see this caravan on the highway, the credit union’s similarly branded van is likely to be sitting on the trailer.
One feature we love on this mobile branch is the exterior lighting, which allows for afterhours use. The interior isn’t as elegant as some other units. However, it’s an open design and includes a full kitchen.
The $60-million asset Desert Valleys FCU is proof that even a tiny financial institution can find value in a mobile branch. One way this credit union, based in Ridgecrest, Calif., used its mobile branch was to provide on-the-spot help to nearby community heavily damaged in 2019 by two major earthquakes.
Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union
Lower East Side People’s FCU, with $84 million in assets, has just one brick-and-mortar branch in lower Manhattan, in New York City. But it serves immigrants and low-income people all over the city, some of them in The Bronx, the northernmost borough in the city.
Lower East Side launched its mobile branch in 2021 as a way to give credit union members an opportunity to bank more conveniently in their own neighborhoods.
Though the main idea is to facilitate portable banking services, the mobile branch also offers financial education programs in these neighborhoods.
Bank of Bird-in-Hand
Like Lower East Side People’s FCU, the Bank of Bird-in-Hand looked at its mobile branch as a way to better serve its customers. In this case, many of the customers are Amish people who struggle to get to one of its three branches.
Its mobile branch is stationed in different spots around Lancaster, Pa., each day of the week, primarily at public bus stops, and offers personal and business banking services.
Comerica’s mobile bank bus is clean, crisp and gorgeous.
It also has an unusual and memorable name — “gomerica.”
The $87 billion-asset Comerica, which serves five states, uses the bus as a base for hosting financial education sessions, as well as other community and customer events. It is also called into action when needed to provide banking services in areas hit by natural disasters or temporary closures.
Comerica first dispatched its mobile branch in September 2021, to Naples, Fla.
“The launch of gomerica will be a true change agent for our bank, making financial tools and resources more readily accessible and convenient to a larger demographic – the fully banked, underbanked and unbanked,” Irvin Ashford Jr., Comerica’s chief community officer, said at the time.
Centennial Bank’s mobile branch is spectacular. Its star-studded exterior can easily be spotted from afar.
Centennial has had mobile branches out and about for almost a decade. Whenever severe storms hit Arkansas, a few of the bank’s traditional branches may be closed, but one of its mobile branches will be stationed in the neighborhood.
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PNC Bank is well-known for its mobile branches — it has been dispersing drivable branches across the country for nearly two decades.
It operates more than ten mobile branches at any given time, sending them to various events. One of PNC’s mobile branches served as a key part of its 2021 Community Benefits Plan — which is designed to support low-income communities. As such, it was sent to community centers in north Texas.
The exterior look and interior style of PNC’s mobile branches have changed over the years, but the services they offer have remained roughly the same. Customers can open checking accounts, apply for loans and get replacement debit cards.
The most recent fleet additions are larger and can accommodate financial education classes.
Learn More about PNC: How PNC Adapted Its Virtual Wallet to Solve Overdraft Complaints
You couldn’t miss Regions Bank’s mobile branch if you tried — with its bright green color.
In the picture, the truck is set up outside one of the bank’s brick-and-mortar branches, but it was parked there for the photo op after it had circulated through Houma, Louisiana, in the wake of Hurricane Ida in September 2021.
“By establishing this portable branch facility, we are taking a significant step forward in helping people and businesses meet their daily banking needs while also recovering from the storm,” Tracy Broussard, consumer banking manager for Regions in south Louisiana, said in a statement at the time.
Despite the steps, the Regions mobile branch is handicap accessible. A wheelchair lift is housed in the area just to the right of the middle set of stairs in the photo.
Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union
Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union’s mobile branch doesn’t carry cash — in part, because of how small the truck is.
However, the advantage of the vehicle being so petite is its accessibility. Credit union members standing on the street can easily talk to an employee inside the truck and vice versa. While not quite eye to eye, they’re much closer than is the case with a towering truck or giant RV.
Members can order new debit cards and open new checking accounts at the mobile branch, though they can’t withdraw cash from their accounts.
Vocality Community Credit Union
Vocality Community Credit Union has a small mobile branch, but it’s attractive and consistent with the rest of its branding.
Like some other mobile bank branches out there, it requires using steps to get to the ATM on the exterior of the vehicle and to go in the entrance, but Vocality has a bell by the front door that says “Ring bell for assistance.” Vocality also mounted a television by the front door.
LBS Insurance might not be a bank, but The Financial Brand team loved the open-air style of the LBS mobile branch.
The right side of the mobile branch opens up to reveal a desk, brochure stands and stools for customers to come sit for consults. It can accommodate high-cargo capacities, despite being set low to the ground, the company says.
A Few Yet-to-Be-Branded Mobile Branch Styles
Mobile bank branch designers all have concept ideas they’ve built out for banks and credit unions to nab. The three below hail from GS Mobile.
GS Mobile Concept 1
Talk about taking a branch on the road.
Most mobile bank branches are a condensed version of a bank’s or credit union’s physical branch. This concept, however, is much larger — a trailer pulled by a branded semi.
The inside of the trailer feels massive, with several vertical windows that let in light and provide a sense of spaciousness.
When people enter, they see a front desk and ATMs, and an office in the back facilitates privacy for people conducting transactions or consulting with an employee.
GS Mobile Concept 2
The second GS Mobile concept could seem like a Plain Jane. There is no fancy ATM on the outside of the vehicle nor an awning to roll out for customers.
However, its interior — with a low threshold so it’s easy to step into — is designed to mimic a traditional teller-style branch.
A double set of doors on the inside sets off a “lobby” area, where customers can wait, from a private area on the other side, where an employee can meet with them privately.
GS Mobile Concept 3
Last, but not least, is GS Mobile’s Midi Plus truck, another big-truck concept. Not quite as massive as the semi-truck concept highlighted above, it still manages to pack in many of the same features.