Tellers amid trikes down at your K mart

A MINI ``bank'' with marble counters and Doric columns may look incongruous next to Big Wheel tricycles. But First Nationwide Savings says it's found a profitable niche in K mart stores. The San Francisco-based savings-and-loan has branches now in almost two dozen K marts. It plans to have 37 in California and 40 or so in K Marts throughout Kansas, New Mexico, Michigan, and New Hampshire by year-end.

``We're doing awfully well at K mart because it costs less to operate, and we pass that on by giving higher interest on savings accounts. The average account size is very high: $17,500. It looks like a concept that makes sense,'' says Anthony M. Frank, chief executive officer of First Nationwide.

Each branch will initially offer checking, savings, and credit card accounts. Cash can be obtained from an automatic teller machine. And a self-directed computer program will allow customers to see if they qualify for a home mortgage loan.

The thrift chain began testing the concept in 1984 at 10 stores in San Diego. It proved profitable. The firm rents the space from K mart and saves on the cost of building, maintaining, and staffing expensive outdoor branches.

``We're taking a conventional savings-and-loan and trying to see how a low-cost producer can deliver financial services to the middle class,'' Mr. Frank says.

Last December, First Nationwide was bought by the Ford Motor Company.

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