BEVERLY — There are no tellers in the area's newest bank branch. Instead, customers are greeted by a "universal personal banker."

The old-fashioned teller window? It's now known as a "transaction pod." And don't forget the electric fireplace and comfy sofa chairs.

That's the new approach to retail banking being taken by North Shore Bank at its branch that opened last month on Brimbal Avenue in Beverly.

Joseph Bartolotta, North Shore Bank's chief customer officer, said the design is intended to reflect a philosophy that customers can visit the branch for more than just routine transactions like deposits or withdrawals.

"Technology has changed the way people bank," Bartolotta said. "While some banks have closed branches, we believe the branch is still vitally important if used properly."

The biggest feature of the new branch, Bartolotta said, is that every employee — even those handling the traditional teller role — is trained as a "universal personal banker" who can offer a range of financial advice.

"You should be able to come in here and say, 'I just came into some money. What should I do with it?,'" Bartolotta said. "We're still taking care of the transactions, but people need a place to turn to for advice."

The branch has an open concept, with lots of glass looking out onto the under-construction North Shore Crossing shopping plaza. Instead of tellers behind glass, employees stand behind an open, curved counter.

Instead of counting bills and placing them in draws, the employees drop the bills into a "cash recycler" machine that sorts bills at a rate of 12 per second, captures their serial numbers, and stores them safely.

North Shore Bank was established in 1888. It is headquartered in Peabody and has 12 locations, including one in New Hampshire. The bank had $819 million in assets and $653 million in deposits in 2017.

Daniel Forte, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, said that while there's been about a 50 percent decrease in the number of banks over the last 25 years, the number of bank branches has actually increased by about 10 percent.

"Banks have merged to create economies of scale, but at the same time some of the smaller banks have actually added branches," he said. "From a brand perspective it's important to have a physical presence."

Forte said the new branches, like North Shore Bank's Brimbal Avenue branch, are turning to the universal teller concept, where the employees are trained and empowered to help customers with more than simple transactions.

"I think that's going to be the wave of the future in smaller branches," he said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or