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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.

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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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