Banking giant takes a 1st step in state

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is the biggest banking firm in the United States and one of the biggest in the world with $3.7 trillion in assets, but until the past few years lacked the physical footprint on U.S. soil to match its financial heft.

That began to change in 2018 when the bank embarked on a quest to open 400 bank branches in new markets in the United States and become the first American bank to have a presence in every state but Alaska and Hawaii.

Chase, the U.S. consumer and commercial banking business of JP Morgan Chase & Co., opened the first of its planned five branch locations in Central Arkansas earlier this month, one of more than 60 branches the bank has opened around the nation this year.

Chase’s presence in Arkansas was mostly limited to credit card services. In Arkansas, Chase has 350,000 credit card holders. It also has 14,000 business accounts in the state.

“As a credit card company we’ve been servicing people across the country for 20 years or more,” said Dan Deegan, who has led the national expansion effort for Chase.

Deegan was in town last week to help mark the formal opening of the Chase branch at 12900 Chenal Parkway. He and other bank executives were welcomed by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

“As a former banker, I know how important banks are to a local economy,” Scott said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “You are job creators, You are job sustainers.”

Investing in new buildings may appear old school with the covid-19 pandemic accelerating the public’s move to online banking and with many banks closing or limiting access to their lobbies.

But physical locations continue to play an important role in banking, Deegan said.

“Through covid, people have had to embrace technology even faster than they thought they would. We’ve certainly seen that,” he said. “But people still like the idea [of being] face-to-face with someone and ask the questions that are sometimes more complicated: ‘I want to get a mortgage, I want to get an auto loan, I want to get the right checking account.'”

Still, technology killed the traffic at bank branches.

“They don’t need to come as frequently as they did five or 10 years ago to the bank,” Deegan said. “Direct deposit probably being the most impactful thing that has changed foot traffic. But we still have almost a million customers a day coming to our footprint of branches nationwide.”

Chase has 4,960 locations in 44 states, including the branch on Chenal Parkway, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Still, the concept of a branch has adapted to 21st Century sensibilities. There’s no big lobby dominated by teller windows. Instead, there are just two teller windows, now called transaction windows.

The branch has six offices around the central lobby area. Associate bankers greet customers, a tablet computer in their hands for setting appointments and other services.

The branch has a total of four automated teller machines, commonly called ATMs. One is for drive-thru customers and another is for walk-up customers. Two more are inside, a preference Chase has detected among its customers.

The ATM options “make banking easy and convenient,” said Kyle Rhodes, the branch manager. “Do what you want when you want.”

But even Rhodes, a banking industry veteran, made a jarring discovery on his first day at the branch involving the big walk-in vault. The branch didn’t have one.

“No big wheel or big lever to turn, or needing two people to push the door,” he said.

Chase has four other branches — three more in Little Rock and one in North Little Rock — in various stages of development or construction.

All are in high traffic areas. The Chenal Parkway branch is situated next to a Target and Home Depot.

Chase is scheduled to open new branch banks at Cantrell Road and Southridge Drive, one in Midtown in Little Rock and one on East McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock. The fifth branch will be at Chenal Parkway and Kirk Road.

“Locations are critical for us,” Deegan said. “Three key things drive the selection. We want to be near where you live, where you work, where you shop.

“Clearly, with Target and Home Depot here, this is a convenient place where people are shopping. Ideally, if we could hit all three of those buckets, that will be convenient to our customers.”

Technology is a feature that limits the expansion.

“Years ago, we might have built more because people relied exclusively on branches,” Deegan said. “Now they do a combination of both.”

Chase plans to use the expanded branch footprint to develop new business with existing customers.

“What we have found surprisingly is our credit card customers consider themselves Chase customers already,” Deegan said. “They just didn’t have the opportunity to do branch banking.

“What we do is literally reach out to them whether it’s by phone, email or letter just to let them know, ‘Hey, we now have a branch in Little Rock. If you’d like to learn about other ways Chase can help you, feel free to come in.’

“So far, over 10% of the accounts we’ve opened at all the other branches have come from credit-card-only customers that were there already and then we introduced them to the branch.”

New Chase Bank location at 12900 Cenal Parkway in Little Rock.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

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