Bank Wait Times Are Matter Of Perception

According to a McKinsey article entitled, “Bank branches that meet customer needs,”

Customer satisfaction, we know from our research, reflects perceived rather than actual waiting time. A three- to five-minute wait (or three to five customers standing in a line) will be acceptable if the branch provides interesting diversions and appears to be staffed efficiently.

Does this describe your bank branch? We rarely set foot in ours, Washington Mutual, but when we do, the lines are often long and there don’t seem to be any “diversions,” beyond wondering idly who ever thought switching to a “kiosk” style of banking was a good and safe idea.


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  1. Buran says:

    The last time I went into a bank the guy who walked in the door 2 seconds (literally) in front of me was helped instantly while I had to wait 15 minutes.

    There’s a reason I do my banking online and with ATMs.

  2. Jesse in Japan says:

    They just need to pump the bank lobby full of trance music. The wait will flash in the blink of an eye.

  3. 3drage says:

    The place I work, the branches have Televisions in various locations to at show news channels, and they generally try to make an effort of changing the decor and spicing up the area. They get busy during large rushes, but for the most part members move through fairly quickly.

  4. nardo218 says:

    Lines are for reading, big purses are for books.

  5. synergy says:

    On the internet, there’s no wait. And I don’t have to dress. I can bank in my underwear. heh

  6. tamushrek says:

    I love banking in my underwear :D But in other news I love my local wells fargo branches because when I walk in the always greet me. The line is sometimes slow but im usually not in a rush.

  7. korith says:

    The wait at my washington mutual varies, normally don’t have to wait more than 5minutes.

  8. SOhp101 says:

    WaMu is the worst in Los Angeles. Endless lines, slow tellers in combination with ignorant customers makes it even worse. I just hate how I have to deposit cash in person so an employee doesn’t take my money.

    And that research is pointless. All they had to do is go to Disneyland and ask them how they deal with long lines. Maybe WaMu should start Fastpass too.. ::rolls eyes::

  9. BAllen says:

    Having consulted with several banks on improving their branch designs, I’ve heard this piece of research recited *constantly* by each of them. It’s a bit more important to these banks than it might seem at first.

    A little background- In the late 90’s, banks did everything they could to push customers away from their branches and encouraged them to do their banking at ATMs or online. They were pretty successful at it, but then came to realize that they were actually losing money- bricks and mortar branches are quite good at moving profitable ‘product’ (ie mortgages, CDs, etc.) while the internet provides plenty of opportunities for customers to go elsewhere for such things.

    So now banks want customers ‘in branch’ where bankers get their best shot at pitching their product spread, but customers are understandably resistant. They still have a bad taste in their mouths from being charged for the ‘privelege’ of completing transactions at the bricks and mortar branches, and are also increasingly comfortable with the convenience of banking from home or at ATMs.

    Which leads us to the McKinsey study. The new goal for banks is to make branch banking convenient at minimum, and ideally to make it entertaining in such a manner as to leave a lasting favorable impression. Convenience will bring ’em in, and hopefully entertainment will help to bring ’em back (or is it the reverse?). Understanding these goals, McKinsey’s recommendations are just common sense- reduce the perception of inconvenience through (hopefully) entertaining marketing at the point of purchase.

  10. Ickypoopy says:

    At my credit union i rarely have to wait more than 30 seconds or so for an avilable teller… Except on friday afternoons, but there are bound to be busy times.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    Ironically, it’s the guys with guns and ski masks that don’t have to wait at all. Perhaps the banks are telling us something?

  12. EtherealStrife says:

    Well I stopped using WaMu some time ago (along with all other banks), but the local OCTFCU branch is great. I rarely have more than a 1-3 minute wait time. They’re able to pretty accurately predict the long lines and beef up the # of tellers to compensate. The only distractions I’ve noticed are the advertising signs for loans and the “Next Teller” indicators that ding and point the way.
    Most of my transactions are online, so uh 0 wait time. :)

  13. shoegazer says:

    This is true.

    Among the other things my local bank is doing to reduce the (perceived) wait time…

    1. Have a coffee bar (Costa Coffee) in the branch well stocked with newspapers and chairs.

    2. Have a greetperson taking your name and account number before inviting you for a cup of coffee at said coffee bar.

    3. Tellers with desks scattered round the branch and not behind a wall of glass so you don’t know who’s taking forever to check a £2 charge on their darned savings accounts…

    Granted I bank at a central city location and the wait times are still unwieldy during lunch time, but it does mean less grumbling. I only ever set foot in there when I have some money to send abroad, and it’s in and out in twenty minutes or less.

  14. nctrnlboy says:

    Its a matter of perception…. because of the regular practice of banks NOT keeping a clock where anyone waiting in line can see it.

    BTW…. post offices (at least around here) are the worst when it comes to long lines & long waits.

  15. Televiper says:

    @nctrnlboy: That hasn’t been my experience. My bank branch has a rather large clock displayed prominently in the lobby. Besides, most people have watches, cell phones, mp3 players, etc to give them the time.

  16. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @nctrnlboy: You think you have a problem with post offices, come to SW FL (God’s waiting room). The post office is filled with people that most senior citizens would call ‘old’ and they seem to think that they need to go to the post office right when they open, right a lunchtime, and right when they close. Similar with banks and grocery stores.
    But my biggest complaint about banks, which is more about people, is why do I invariably get stuck behind the one person who has no f’n clue how to use an ATM, nor apparently how to drive as they are too far, too far back, too far up, etc. etc.

  17. cedarpointfan says:

    Comerica doesn’t make me wait more than five minutes, even on a Thursday or Friday…

  18. emax4 says:

    I have direct deposit, and if I ever need money I either get cash out when I purchase an item at a retail outlet (Target, Wally World, local grocery store), or the rare time that I use the bank’s ATM whenever I deposit an expense check from work.

    Total wait time = 0 minutes (unless of course you include the time waiting in line when I’m checking out to purchase an item).

  19. formergr says:

    @BAllen: Says, “The new goal for banks is to make branch banking convenient at minimum, and ideally to make it entertaining in such a manner as to leave a lasting favorable impression. Convenience will bring ’em in, and hopefully entertainment will help to bring ’em back (or is it the reverse?).”

    Interesting stuff. But I’m afraid by “make it entertaining” the bank will go the Safeway route and I’ll be assaulted with cooking “tips” by Sandra Lee blaring from tv screens in each checkout aisle. They managed to turn waiting in line even *more* stressful. Hate!

  20. morganlh85 says:

    I use a credit union in a large office building. When I go there’s usually about 5 people ahead of me. The people were relatively slow but it seemed like a normal wait.

    Well one day I visit another credit union a few miles away because my regular one isn’t open on Saturdays. I get there and there’s a good 50 people ahead of me! I figure I’m gonna be here a long while. But no. I was there just as long as I would have been at my regular CU! Apparently the people at this service center are very used to long lines, because it took them less than 60 seconds to process most regular transactions. I was out of there in 15 minutes. I had needed to deposit a check and withdraw cash and the teller did all that in about 45 seconds.

    Now though everything seems EXTRA slow at my regular credit union. :(

  21. RandomHookup says:

    My backup bank provides donut holes and coffee along with a little lounge where you can read the paper. They used to have these great internet kiosks, but they got hosed by viruses. If you just come in to enjoy the a/c & Dunkin Donuts and read the paper, no one bothers you.

  22. SilverStar95 says:

    For the rare times I do in-branch banking, it does depend on how staffed it is and if there’s enough to distract my eyes and mind with.

    A 10 minute wait feels a LOT longer if the line is barely moving because they only have 2 or 3 tellers on, compared to the same 10 minute wait when all the windows are staffed and everything is moving much quicker. Probably because I’m left thinking, “if only they had 2 or 3 more tellers on, I wouldn’t be standing here for 10 minutes, waiting!”

  23. ShadowFalls says:

    My bank is Washington Mutual. I have three branches nearby. Everytime I go in any one of them, I am either taken immediately, or almost immediately.

  24. My credit union is very well-staffed and efficient. On Friday afternoons the wait stalls a bit (maybe 10 minutes), but it isn’t bad.

    They don’t have any entertainment for those of us in line, but it’s a small enough town you usually see someone you know. Or can eavesdrop on conversations of someone else seeing someone they know. That’s OLD-FASHIONED entertainment. :)

    In the waiting area for longer stuff (like opening accounts or doing loans) they have kiddie books and a few toys. But no magazines. That would help.

  25. agb says:

    Coffee, donuts, and newspapers are nice distractions, but I wouldn’t mind waiting an hour if they had free wifi.

  26. medief says:

    My credit union is pretty good at keeping the lines down.

    But I’m with the above posters on the post office. My god, I dread it on the occasion where I’m forced to go there.

  27. FLConsumer says:

    Wachovia’s branches vary widely in terms of service, amenities, and attitude. The 2 closest branchse to my primary home are what I’d call “ghetto” branches. Bulletproof dividers between the staff & customers. As to be expected, service at these locations is what I’d call “average”. I’ve gotten right in at times, while others sometimes take 15 minutes. Bare essentials, gets the job done, blah.

    There’s a mid-level Wachovia at the north end of my neighborhood which lacks the bulletproof dividers and service is better, just happens to be out of the way for me.

    Then there’s their high-end branches. Good coffee, lounges, pastries, various newspapers (usually a WSJ, NYTimes, Washington Times/Post, and local paper), Bloomberg most likely playing on a few plasma screens. Service is impeccable, no waiting, no hassle, reps all speak perfect English, etc. At these branches, there may have a teller counter, or they might have individual desks where the tellers just pull the money from their desk drawers. Compare this to the “ghetto” version. They also have a “Wealth Management” division which is similar to their high-end branches, but is set up more like a top-notch lawfirm. No teller counter, no desks out in the open, just private offices to provide clients with the utmost privacy in their transactions. Read: expect some major ass kissing here. This is where I’ll go when I need to get some serious transactions done and don’t feel like wasting time with the inexperienced tellers at the “ghetto” branches.

    My credit union only has 2 real branches, only been to 1 of them. The lines are long, but they often have 10 teller windows open at peak times, so it does tend to move. Only had one time there which was slow.

  28. BAllen says:

    @formergr: It could happen, I suppose, but it’s not generally what’s discussed. Most of the things being bandied about in meetings have already been mentioned here, such as more comfortable/attractive environments, free coffee & food, wifi access, kiosk options. Wifi’s a sticky issue for banks for a large variety of reasons, and kiosks are a nightmare to maintain. It’s even a big task to just maintain non-interactive flatscreen monitors- the creation and distribution of bank specific marketing content is generally prohibitively expensive (or so the banks seem to think).

    Some of the more ‘pie in the sky’ ideas have included free Fedex-Kinko’s-style services for branches with business clientele, children’s play areas with banking themed toys/games (get ’em young…) and large scale interactive touch screens (think 8′ or larger) that provide ‘top level’ (ie non customer-specific) information about their product spread under the theory that the flashy display of technology will somehow sex up the offering.

    All of which are interesting, but they don’t really address the issue of ‘percieved’ wait times in queue. For that, they’ll generally just stick a tv tuned to CNN or the like somewhere in eyeshot of the line, and scatter some brochures around. Some are also trying to make it easier to fill out deposit slips, etc., while waiting.

  29. beyond says:

    Whenever I go into my bank (rarely) I’m usually the only customer there.

  30. kc2gvx says:

    Take it from a bank manager here. Most of the hold ups and long lines are due to ignorant customers. Sure, sometimes our branches are short staffed, and we should take responsibility for those instances. Most of the time, people are asking questions about their accounts that they can get online or through the automated 1-800 numbers. Other customers hold up the lines with all time consuming things that can be done outside the branch. Most tellers process the routine transactions timely, and always avoid banks on Fridays, Mondays, and any day after a holiday, along with the 1st & 3rd of the month.

  31. kc2gvx says:


  32. RandomHookup says:


    I thought bank managers never used the term “hold up”?

  33. swallowyourhalo says:

    This is the same problem with Post Office branches across this vast land of ours. Last time I went to my local one to overnight something, my wait – punctuated only by Jerry Springer on the wall-mount television and the exit of a 15-strong family of Salvadoran immigrants who had somehow been crammed into a 4 by 5 waiting room for passport photos – felt eternal.

    Checking the clock upon my exit I of course realized I had only been in line maybe 12 or 15 minutes. But banks and post offices have a strange stranglehold on the space-time continuum. I’ve come up with only one certifiable and scientifically sound solution to this short but interminable torture: heavy doses of amphetamines, pumped directly through all air ducts during working hours. Not only will customers be primed and ready to do business, but all employees will certainly be ‘on the ball’ in getting their work done. Amphetamines DO induce violent behaviors in some among us, yes, but there are already bulletproof partitions in these establishments – so this problem will be nipped in the bud before it can even take seed.

    You can thank me later, Postal Service and various banking conglomerates of America.

  34. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    3 to 5 people waiting in line? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha………pause to catch breath………hahahahahahahah……

    At my local BofA, I’m always extremely excited if there’s anything less than 15-20 people waiting in line. And trust me, I’ve tried going to the bank at different times of the day, different days, none of it works.

    That’s why I try to do all of my banking online, and that’s why I never visit the bank until I have a lot of checks to deposit. Oh and I also make sure that any spare penny that I don’t need in my checking account is in my HSBC Direct account instead of in my BofA account. I don’t want those sharks at BofA to make even a dime of extra interest off of me.

  35. dantsea says:

    There are two things the local BofA does that actually help keep the line moving:

    1. Supervisor patrolling the queue and pulling out anyone who needs to make a straight deposit with no cash back.

    2. Bribing the seniors with special events, food, or trinkets to a “banking happy hour” from 2pm to 4pm. They’d never admit it, but I know they’re doing it to keep the time vampires out of the line during the lunchtime errand rush.

    Then there’s the local WaMu, which has never moved over to the kiosk system. The line is always Soviet-class long, no matter when I go there.