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The ING Cafe Is No Ordinary Branch Bank

Online banks often claim they can offer savers better interest rates because they don’t have the expense of brick-and-mortar branches.

The ING Cafe in Midtown Manhattan is not like a branch bank.So we were curious to see what one of the largest online banks was up to after it built seven “cafés” in seven cities nationwide.

The ING Direct Café sounded like it might be a cool place to hang out, with free Internet access, free ATM withdrawals, and coffee and treats at competitive prices.

Is this the future of banking?

We don’t think so after visiting the New York location.

It’s in midtown Manhattan at the corner of Third Avenue and 58th Street.

The modest two-story building among the skyscrapers of the business district is friendly and inviting.

ING Direct’s iconic orange orb is visible from the street. The exterior walls are comprised mostly of windows and orange and yellow squares.

Upon entering, visitors are greeted warmly and offered a place to sit and relax, surf the Internet, sip coffee and nibble on Greek pastries.

Staff members can help you manage your ING Direct account, set up a transfer or open a new account.

A scrolling ticker rolls across the building, and slogans are scrawled throughout. One reads “How this little investor went to market” above a wall of ING merchandise that’s for sale — not only T-shirts and water bottles but umbrellas and sporting goods, including a bicycle.

Upstairs you can watch the several wall-mounted TVs or check your e-mail at one of the many work stations. A spacious lounge area has several chairs and full-size couches for work lunches or a quick meeting with friends.

The cafés work with local community and charitable organizations in various ways.

The New York location recently held a Restaurant Day, offering a lunch special to all visitors for $10 that included food from several local restaurants such as Hello Pasta, PopBurger and Nom Wah.

Proceeds were to benefit Books for Kids, a nonprofit organization that builds libraries for at-risk children in underprivileged areas across the nation.

But despite everything the café offered, I felt like something was missing.

There aren’t any tellers and only one ATM machine.

All of the tasks that staff members offered to help with can be done online and at home.

Although the cafés are supposed to host regular financial seminars, only four are scheduled on the bank’s website, and they’re all in Chicago.

(The other ING Café’s are in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Honolulu, Wilmington, Del., and St. Cloud, Minn.)

In the end, I decided they were more about marketing and creating a hip, modern image for the Dutch-owned banking conglomerate than helping me manage my money more wisely.

The warm fuzzies and half-price coffee were nice.

But I went home wishing it had been a little more about real banking.

Here are a bunch of photos I took while I was there so you can get a better sense of what it was like.

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Comments (3)
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3 Existing Comments
  1. Dr. Timothy Lawler said:
    on March 6th at 09:53 pm

    Great post. I agree that it looks like a marketing gimic. Now don’t get me wrong, it looks like an alright place to hang out, especially for the free Internet, but if you can do it at home, save yourself the time and trip. Or, just go to your favorite local coffee shop and hunker down in a probably more relaxing atmoshere. Really enjoyed this post. Keep’em coming!

  2. Cleo Brown, Head of Cafe Operations - USA said:
    on March 9th at 03:26 pm

    Thanks for recognizing that the ING Direct Café is not an ordinary branch bank. In fact, it isn’t a bank branch at all. Ten years ago when we opened the first Café, we set out to create an innovative space and community experience that turned the traditional bank branch model on its head and reinforced the value of saving money.

    Today, the Cafés provide an opportunity to interact face-to-face with customers and provide them with great service and value, regardless of whether they want to open an account, use the ATM or just want to buy a great cup of coffee. Certainly, we know that sometimes customers want to put a face with ING DIRECT and they may want to have questions about their accounts answered in person. The Cafés help with both.

    The Cafés are also a community outpost. They allow for casual conversation with educators, parents and children about financial education. We also work with local non-profits and financial experts to host hundreds of financial education workshops. And it’s not uncommon for students to stop by to cram for exams, road warriors to visit seeking a quiet spot with free wifi and great coffee, or to see independent IT developers hanging out in the creative space and talking about their latest innovation.

    Banking should be as easy as having a great cup of coffee and a friendly chat with talented Associates. Our service and value proposition will remain the same no matter if you join us for coffee or want to talk about saving.

    We hope you’ll stop by again.

    BTW – your pictures captured the true Orange essence of our NY Cafe.

    Cleo Brown
    Head of Cafe Operations – USA

  3. Rena said:
    on October 11th at 01:58 pm

    This article is great. Do you know of any other banks that have locations that are out of the norm for banking?