At first glance, San Diego would appear to be an unlikely site to serve as a test market for new product and service concepts in both commercial and consumer banking.

The region is better known for its beaches than its banking.

But Union Bank, which has more than 55 branches throughout the county, thinks the region is the perfect locale to serve as its innovation lab.

For the past six months, the San Francisco-based bank has utilized its San Diego branches to field test new concepts under its Model Bank Pilot Program. The bank officially launched the program after launching Express Banking, one of its first tests in San Diego, two years earlier.

So far, Union Bank has field tested about 15 ideas, with an additional 10 currently undergoing evaluation, said Brian Milton, the local executive who also heads up the effort.

Quick Feedback

“The goal is to accelerate the feedback loop between our clients and the bank to weed out those ideas that work and those that don’t,” said Milton.

He notes that the program helps keep the bank competitive in a highly competitive market for banking on the West Coast.

One recent pilot that has proved successful features an advanced generation of ATMs, or “Express Banking Kiosks” as the bank has branded them.

The kiosks allow the bank’s mix of business and consumer customers to deposit large amounts of cash or pull money out in the exact denominations they need. That’s handy when you’re in retailing, or other businesses that deal in cash.

Since the testing began locally, the kiosks have since been installed in branches in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“They are much more advanced than a common ATM,” said Milton. “Indeed, they can do 80 percent of the tasks that tellers do, which is great for customers who need to visit a branch but don’t need a lot of handholding.”

Test Bed San Diego

For decades, San Diego has been a test market for all sorts of businesses. McDonald’s periodically tests food products here. Earlier this year, Uber said it would test drone delivery of food in San Diego. An executive from FPA Multifamily LLC,

a San Francisco real estate firm, told the Business Journal in April that it was testing a tiny apartment concept in downtown San Diego to see if it wanted to roll it out to other cities.

At Union Bank, products and services are usually tried out in local branches for six months before they are rolled out to the rest of the bank’s branches.

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