Different theories try to explain the origin of drive-through banking: while some claim it was the brainchild of Exchange National Bank of Chicago in 1946, some insist the honor belongs to Hillcrest State Bank that opened the first drive-through bank in 1938, in Dallas, Texas. Mostly importantly, drive-through banking traces its origins in the United States, just like many other developments in automotive culture, which include drive-in movies, and drive-through restaurants. By then, America was the land of unlimited automotive opportunities.
Around the late 1950s and early 1960s, the world was experiencing a car-crazy era, and there were numerous developments in automotive culture. Around that time, one bank embraced an automotive innovation. Wells Fargo Bank came up with the “TV Auto Banker Service.” The service allowed the teller’s image to be broadcasted to the customers, right in the comfort of their cars through a special closed-circuit television. Using the system, this California-based bank could conduct its transactions – deposits, withdrawals, and other transactions – with the help of an underground pneumatic tube that was able to transfer money or paperwork between a teller and a client.
On June 7, 1962, the banking institution Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (later known as Credit Suisse) opened its first drive-through bank in Switzerland, at Peter-Strasse 17. The bank that opened near Paradeplatz, in downtown Zurich, was one of Schweizerische Kreditanstalt’s branches, and it featured eight- blade-shaped -glass subdivisions. One was outfitted for right-hand vehicles (mostly from the United Kingdom) while seven were suited for left-hand vehicles.
The new branch was one of the biggest and most modern facility in Europe. The new revolutionary received much praise from the press. Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Zurich’s daily newspaper, instructed motorists on how to enter the drive-through division: “At the entrance to the bank, approaching cars trigger a sensor on the ground, activating a light trail that directs the driver to the next available counter.”
The Paradeplatz drive-through became popular among motorists and the bank handled around 20,000 customers in its first year of operation. As the craze for motor vehicles continued, people acquired more cars, and that meant more traffic problems.
Traffic meant delays, and, therefore, fewer drivers opted for the drive-through option. Schweizerische Kreditanstalt was forced to close the drive-through in 1983 after operating for years without sufficient returns. The automobile, which had provided the ground for a new line of business, was also responsible for triggering its downfall. Zurich could not handle the increasing traffic, and less people opted to make underground pit stops.
By contrast, drive-through banking had not lost its place in the United States. In fact, all the leading banking institutions have adopted some drive-through option, from 24-hour automated teller machines (ATMs) to regular teller service. The concept entered the untapped Asian market in 2007 when Citibank debuted China’s first drive-through ATM in Beijing.
The history of Credit Suisse has been shaped by greater things, and not just technological innovations. The organization has been a pace setter in the fields of marketing, product management, training and development, and social commitment. All their innovations have been purposed towards meeting the needs of their clients. It is clear today that this spirit will fuel many future changes at Credit Suisse and around the world.