More than 21,000 students attend Towson University.
To PNC Bank, that's 21,000 potential customers.
PNC is planning to open its first full-service, on-campus branch in Maryland at Towson's student center Thursday in a space previously occupied by Capital One Bank. The Pittsburgh-based financial giant sees the move as its entree into the University System of Maryland, with its 12 institutions and its more than 150,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
"PNC wants to continue to grow and invest in the market," said Matt Martin, PNC's greater Maryland retail banking market manager. "We see the university space as a great opportunity for us."
Opening a brick-and-mortar branch — particularly on a campus, where students are likely to maintain low balances on their accounts — is not the cheapest way to reach and develop a customer base.
Analysts see the move as a bet on the future: The payoff comes when students graduate, accumulate wealth and become interested in services such as credit cards and mortgages.
"By getting those students early, the banks put themselves in a position to have a long-term relationship with that student," said former bank executive Clifford Rossi, a teaching fellow and executive-in-residence at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
"It's all about connectivity, making that high-touch experience for the student — that they're not just about a number and put a face to the bank."
Of course, some students already have accounts with other banks. Sarah Harris, a rising senior at Towson, says she plans to stick with Bank of America. Still, she likes the idea of having a bank like PNC on campus, she says, because many students don't have cars and can't leave campus easily.
Banks have long marketed to college students, opening branches near schools and pushing student-focused products such as free checking accounts. But it wasn't until the past decade, Rossi said, that banks began ramping up their presence on campus.
Martin, the PNC manager, said the school has developed relationships with more than 210 schools in the last 15 years. The bank has customer service offices and full-service branches at 16 schools, PNC officials said.
PNC is not alone. M&T Bank, one of the largest banks in the Mid-Atlantic region, opened an on-campus branch at the State University of New York's Binghamton University in 1994.
Capital One Bank operates a branch at the student union of the University of Maryland, College Park.
PNC is replacing Capital One at Towson. Capital One came to campus several years ago when it acquired Chevy Chase Bank, which had established the banking partnerships with Towson and Maryland.
Robert Campbell, Towson's director of auxiliary services for finance and information systems, said the university chose PNC because the bank's college business is "something that they do really well."
Under the 10-year deal, PNC says it will emphasize financial education and money management, and will offer workshops for students and staff. The bank also will operate seven ATMs throughout campus. In exchange, the university will receive rent from the bank, Campbell said.
Towson students and faculty will have access to all the bank's products and services, as at any PNC branch. Four employees -- a branch manager, two tellers and one financial consultant -- will staff the Towson branch.
Martin said marketing its credit cards to students will not be an objective. He said the bank would instead be "reactive" to student inquiries.
Credit card issuers have drawn criticism in recent years for their aggressive tactics on college campuses. Credit card reforms that took effect last year now generally restrict issuers from extending credit to those younger than 21.
Since taking over the former Capital One branch last week, PNC's construction crew has been rebuilding the 1,400-square-feet space with new signs and furniture. On Monday, employees conducted a final walk-through of the branch.
Meanwhile, three PNC employees worked at a booth set up at the student center, where they greeted students, answered questions and helped some sign up for new accounts.
Jeremy Winn, 21, and Rory McMahon, 20, opened new PNC checking accounts. Both said they plan to close their existing Capital One accounts.
"It's the convenience," McMahon said. "I love having a branch on campus so I don't have to worry about finding a place, or ATM."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun