No teller line. A cafe area with coffee, snacks and cold beverages. And employees who hop up to help you when you walk in the door.

With consumers doing a lot more of their banking online, U.S. Bank is rethinking its approach to branches to make them less about where you go to make a transaction and more of a place to have a conversation.

The Minneapolis-based company recently opened two new branches in the Twin Cities with this new format, after first opening earlier versions in San Diego and Charlotte.

About 1,500 square feet, the new branches in Mound and Excelsior are one-third the size of a traditional branch. And, the one in Excelsior is mostly cashless, except for an ATM that has new features.

The adoption of digital tools over the last several years has accelerated even more during the pandemic, a shift that executives think will become permanent. About three-quarters of transactions at U.S. Bank, and nearly half of its loan sales, are now done online through its website or mobile app.

But consumers still want to have that human connection, said Tim Welsh, vice chairman of U.S. Bank's consumer and business banking. "What we're trying to adapt to is what it is that customers really want from a bank," he said. "We're evolving the whole concept of the branch so it's much more helpful, much more valuable, much more consultative to a customer."

The approach is different from other banks that are experimenting with making branches more automated, with employees either available by videoconference or hidden behind scrims.

The new format is one of the biggest changes to the look and feel of U.S. Bank branches in decades, Welsh said.

Elements of the new format will also be included in remodels, though he did not say how many new branches or remodels the company is planning in the coming year.

At the same time, U.S. Bank is in the midst of closing more than 300 branches, or 10 to 15% of its 3,000 branches due to the significant shift online. Executives have said the pandemic could spur them to close even more than that. But Welsh emphasized that branches will continue to exist, though some may be smaller and there may not be as many.

"Some people will say, 'Oh my goodness, what does this mean after the pandemic? Are branches just going to go away?' " he said. "I strongly disagree with that. This combination of human and digital is very powerful."

In the new branches, customers can still come in to cash or deposit a check. But the formats are built around sitting down with a "customer relationship client," who can do what tellers do as well as advise on financial tools and give a tutorial on how to use the mobile app.

These are conversations that are increasingly happening by appointment, a new option that U.S. Bank started rolling out at the beginning of the year. Then the pandemic hit and appointments surged in popularity, especially as most of its branches with drive-throughs closed their lobbies to walk-in traffic.

"We're now doing thousands of them across the country every week," said Welsh. "It really is quite astounding."

In the Twin Cities, many branches are now averaging about 40 appointments a week, said Damon Laliberte, a U.S. bank district manager.

Laliberte, who gave a tour of the new Mound branch that opened last month, noted that the space is built to be more flexible and personal, with employees greeting customers when they walk in the door and walking them through whatever they need.

"I compare it to that experience you get at the Apple store," he said.

Employees can pick up and take tablets from the desks out front to one of the two rooms available for lengthier or private consultations with customers.

"It's very different for bankers who are used to having their own space and their own office," Laliberte said. "Nobody really has their own office. It's kind of more free form."

A Roseville branch scheduled to open in early 2021 will have the new format, he added.

The U.S. Bank branches on W. Broadway and Lake Street in Minneapolis, which were damaged in the riots and are being rebuilt, will also have elements of the new look and feel when they reopen.

Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113