Uhispank's magic machines

  • 1999-04-01
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Uhispank, Estonia's second largest bank, enrolled Mr. Q from the James Bond movies to popularize its new automated 'wonder' machines designed to reduce the number of bank branches.

The bank placed 23 mini-banks, called U-Pank, in supermarkets throughout the country. The 'wonder machine,' which takes up only 6 square meters of space, performs a number of functions: It's an Automated Teller Machine and a telephone at the same time.

"U-Pank consists of different details and we can rearrange it any time. We can fulfill it in quality and quantity. We can arrange new services and take them away if the turnover is not satisfactory. It is like Lego," said Erik Sakkov, Uhispank advertising director and U-Pank project manager.

Uhispank invested about 16 million kroons ($1.1 million) in this project which it started in 1997. Each U-Pank machine, which offers services in three languages: Estonian, Russian and English, costs from around 600,000 kroons to 700,000 kroons.

Sakkov said the project will repay itself as soon as people get used to it and Uhispank can reduce its number of branches.

"The present 100 branches in Estonia are too much," said Sakkov. "The new machines do not charge anything for service at the moment, but if they are set in the future, their service charge will definitely be about twice cheaper than charges in branches."

The idea of setting up these 'mini-banks' in the supermarket came from a well known U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, which became one of the world's most efficient banks thanks to its supermarket branch net.

Hansapank established an electronic system, Hansa-24, some years ago, but it did not work because it was far away from customers and people did not get used to it.

Estonian banks used to repeat what was done in the West, but now they are able to make the same steps with leading Western banks. Last year there were 28 banks in Europe working with Internet banking services, five of which were Estonian, said Sakkov.

Uhispank is unlikely to set U-Pank in Lithuania and Latvia, since it curtails its activities in these countries after Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken moved in.

When Estonians think U-Pank, they think of a handsome Italian doing wonders. Uhispank hired Desmond Llewelyn, who plays Mr. Q and constructs wonder equipment for James Bond, to head the advertising campaign.

"It is because Uhispank's client is like James Bond, and Mr. Q is ready to prepare new equipment for the client," Sakkov said. "We advertise the usefulness of the bank instead of declaring how majestic it is."