On this day in 1962, the banking institution Credit Suisse–then known as Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (SKA)–opens the first drive-through bank in Switzerland at St. Peter-Strasse 17, near Paradeplatz (Parade Square) in downtown Zurich.
Like many developments in automotive culture–including drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies–drive-through banking has its origins in the United States. Some sources say that Hillcrest State Bank opened the first drive-through bank in Dallas, Texas, in 1938; others claim the honor belongs to the Exchange National Bank of Chicago in 1946. Regardless of when exactly it began, the trend didn’t reach its height until the car-crazy era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Around that time, California-based Wells Fargo Bank introduced the “TV Auto Banker Service,” where an image of the teller was broadcast to the customer in their car on a special closed-circuit television. Deposits, withdrawals and other transactions were completed using an underground pneumatic tube that whisked money and paperwork between the car and the teller station.
The SKA branch that opened in Zurich in June 1962 featured eight glass pavilions, seven outfitted for left-hand drive cars and one for vehicles with right-hand drive (such as those used in the United Kingdom and Ireland). Upon the opening of the large and modern facility, Zurich daily newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung advised motorists on how to enter the drive-through portion: “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 was well received by the press, and in its first year of operation, the bank handled around 20,000 customers. By the 1970s, however, the automobile’s popularity had led to a major traffic problem in downtown Zurich, and fewer and fewer drivers opted to stop to do their banking from their cars. After years without a profit, SKA closed the drive-through in 1983.
In the United States, by contrast, drive-through banking never lost its popularity. Nearly all major banks nationwide offer some type of drive-through option, from regular teller service to 24-hour automated teller machines (ATMs). In recent years, drive-through banking reached the previously untapped Asian market: Citibank opened China’s first drive-through ATM at the Upper East Side Central Plaza in Beijing in August 2007.