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Grocery Bill Too High? Just Step Over to Teller Cage : Banking: As competition for deposits intensifies, Union Bank will open branches this week at supermarkets in Santa Ana and Fountain Valley.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soon you will be able to pick up a car loan along with the carrots, cookies and canned goods.

Union Bank, the state’s fifth-largest banking organization, said Tuesday that it will open full-service bank branches this week in two Ralphs supermarkets in Orange County--one at 1900 N. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana and the other at 18405 Brookhurst St. in Fountain Valley.

While some grocery stores now have automatic teller machines where customers can withdraw money any time, this marks the first time in Orange County that a major bank will offer branches open every day of the week and staffed with employees.

The effort is part of the increasing competition in California for consumer deposits. Union and other major banks have been offering a variety of services--from free checking to debit cards--to attract new customers.

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And what better place to put a branch than a grocery store--a place most people spend money weekly? “You don’t see as many people in almost any retail outlet as you do in a grocery store,” said Steven Rizzuto, administrating manager for Union’s in-store banking. “We’ll see 15,000 to 20,000 faces a week, or about 10,000 households. That demonstrates the convenience aspect of what we’re doing.”

Union, which opened five branches in Ralphs stores in San Diego in February, plans to open 15 branches in Ralphs stores in Southern California by the end of the year and up to 50 branches in various supermarkets throughout the state in the coming years.

The first 15 branches will be concentrated in Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, he said.

Customers of the San Francisco-based bank can make deposits, take out loans and conduct any type of business at the bank with these exceptions: There are no safe deposit boxes and no bank personnel to handle corporate customers who want commercial loans.

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Each Union branch takes up 275 to 300 square feet. Up to eight employees will man each branch, with half on duty at any one time. The store branches are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Union is not the first bank in the state to launch Sunday hours or banking in supermarkets. Two smaller banks, Antelope Valley Bank in Lancaster and Freemont Bank near San Francisco, opened in grocery stores with Sunday hours shortly before Union did. And Citicorp Savings has an experimental program with three branches open on Sundays in Ralphs stores in the San Fernando Valley.

But Union, with more than $16 billion in assets and 170 branch offices, is the biggest commercial bank so far to move into supermarkets.

Rizzuto said one of the bonuses with a store branch is that little money is spent on the bricks and mortar of a bank building.

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“The grocery store itself is our lobby,” he said.


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