Take it to the bank
Money for nothing: ATMs at your service
It's called the Flite Banking Center, a new concept in ATM banking in which multiple banks' surcharge-free services are consolidated in six drive thru lanes, under a trio of sleek white umbrella-like structures in Houston.
The venture was the idea of R. Michael Villarreal, who has culled long-term leases with Chase, Frost and Wells Fargo. He tells CultureMap that the idea emerged in November of 2008. "I really came up with it out of necessity," he says. "I'm a father and always need cash to pay a babysitter and for those sort of things. I was looking for convenience, security and a better way to use an ATM than in the middle of a parking lot or the dark side of a bank branch."
The 2008 bank crisis and subsequent series of bank mergers also sparked Villarreal's interest. "Banks were no longer able to build a $3 million branch on every corner," he says. The Houston launch site appealed to the entrepreneur because of the surrounding affluence, high density and general lack of parking.
He views the "ATM food court" as only the beginning of the streamlined banking system. Villarreal tells CultureMap that he has ambitions to expand to Austin, College Station, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas and major markets in California.
"I want to build this nation-wide," says Villarreal. He's betting on the ATM's appeal to a younger generation that grew up without relying on interaction with walk-in banks.
Flite Banking Centers could be a win-win for customers and banks, which have to cough up between $50,000 and $100,000 to erect a drive-up ATM. Flite is putting down the investment in real estate and construction, but will bring in money through leasing fees, as well as digital advertising targeted toward drivers. One Tex-Mex chain Guadalajara Hacienda is already hawking its wares to cash-hungry frequent Flite-ers.
Lanes for smaller regional banks, community banks and credit unions may be in the pipeline. Meanwhile, Flite has inked a deal to install two electric vehicle chargers, so eco-car drivers can fuel up as they count their Benjamins.
Still, the project opened with three vacancies, and many smaller banks already offer ATM surcharge refunds. At a time in which the excesses of American banks has come into critical focus, is Flite already be past its prime?
Villarreal argues otherwise, and reports that Amegy and Bank of America are interested in other locations. "I also originally targeted smaller Houston-based banks, saying that it would be a great way to brand next to the big boys," he reports. "Those banks don't look at the ATM as a very significant channel for how they acquire or service customers. Now, they're starting to call me back and see if there are lanes still available. Those people that were on the fence are trying to get on the right side of the fence."
Tell us: Would you use a Flite Banking Center?