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How’s Business?: Bank business

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Interest rates continue to occupy low-rate territory with the notion of continuing south. It’s a dream come true for borrowers, but what about depositors?

Rates can be seen in some bank windows illustrating a return of just 1 1/4 percent and even lower. So on a $10,000 deposit, you get an annual return of just $120. How do banks draw needed depositors? Commerce Bank decided to open its 14th branch in New York City on May 30 on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. And how did they do?

During its first weekend of business, the bank raked in the neighborhood of $10 million, with an approximate 1,300 accounts being opened. If you think there is no money in Queens, think again. That weekend deposit performance rivaled the bank’s prior branch opening at 64th Street and Lexington Avenue. But how did they do it?

For the answers, I talked with branch manager John Antzoulis of Commerce Bank at the new location in Astoria. A 20-year resident of the area, Antzoulis is no stranger to Astoria, and his former locale being the Atlantic Bank certainly put a wind in his sails for that opening location.

The success of this branch and the Commerce Bank is the financial institution’s difference from many other banks. Said Antzoulis: “When we say America’s most convenient bank, it is true.” The bank is open seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said. “When other banks are closed, we’re open.”

Depositors are flocking to Commerce Bank for services such as free checking for small businesses and free consumer checking, he said. The company pays attention to details such as having a coin counter for customers and non-customers. Antzoulis said with enthusiasm, “We are a full-service bank with an emphasis on a customer-friendly staff, which the bank hires and further trains.”

Not hard to believe, either. When I called the bank, a woman named Kim answered with: “Hi, this is Kim at the Commerce Bank, where it is a lovely day in Astoria. How can I help you today?” I don’t get a response like that every day. How about you?

So how’s business at Commerce Bank? In view of its current success, it appears to be proving that interest rates are not everything. The amenities of fee-free services, on-site accommodations, convenient accessibility and exceptionally friendly service are what the public still yearns for and will patronize.

Joe Palumbo is the fund manager for The Palco Group, Inc. and can be reached at palcogroup@aol.com or 718-461-8317.

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