Keeping the Community in Community Banking

For decades, small town business districts across Ohio (and across the country) have almost always featured a strong physical presence from a local bank. Next to the courthouse or city hall, these buildings are often identified by their traditional columns and prominent facades of brick or stone. Not only do these structures help establish the fabric of the streetscape; they can often contribute to the social framework of the individuals and communities they serve – supporting the hopes and dreams of generations.

But, in recent years, some banks have closed branches in smaller communities, often bolstering their online offerings to attempt to increase customer engagement electronically, but losing sight of the true relationship building opportunities that can occur in the local branch setting. Recent industry research from Mintel[1]shows customers have three or more interactions with their financial institutions each month online, in person and via mobile apps – with the coveted millennial demographic reporting they visit branches near their home more than any other age group. All of this means banks need to ensure each interaction helps reinforce the value the local branch bank provides.

K4 Architecture + Design has collaborated with leadership of several banks to find ways to embrace and celebrate the town’s history and their community presence as part of the bank’s design. This helped build a stronger connection with the bank’s patrons and the entire community. It is important to honor the town’s heritage – and the bank’s role in it – while still creating a contemporary, functional facility that appeals to multiple generations of customers.

Community banks need to reinforce their value to the cities, towns and villages they serve. Making your bank’s physical appearance something memorable, and a reflection of your brand, offers an opportunity to reinforce the benefits of banking locally – including working with friends and neighbors they know and trust. In addition, many customers report they’d switch banks if their local branch closed. So, there are good reasons to revitalize the branch experience. Here are some ways to make your local branch a bigger part of the community it serves.

Stand out by blending in. Community banks often have a presence in a town’s main street, situated next to historic buildings that add to the charm of a town or city streetscape. When remodeling bank exteriors, it’s beneficial to have the exterior architectural design blend with existing structures to preserve the legacy and the urban fabric of the town center. In partnership with Wayne Bank, K4 converted a very modern and non-contextual building exterior to blend with the traditional streetscape of Cambridge City. Through the use of traditional design elements, such as a rounded portico with colonial columns and a heavy frieze band with dentils and crown-molded profiles, Wayne Bank’s exterior commands a presence along the streetscape.

Exterior Bank Design
Wayne Bank & Trust, Cambridge City, IN – Author’s Own Photos & Bella Photographics

Place matters. When you walk into your bank, does it feel like every other bank you’ve seen in any other community?  What differentiates you, or sets you apart from your competition?  There are volumes of industry research that reports customers are more likely to be loyal to local enterprises. A branch’s interior design can offer an opportunity to celebrate the bank’s position in the community, and the role it has played in a town’s history and growth. Creating displays with archive photos of community milestones can accomplish this. For instance, Wayne Bank at their original charter branch location, served the small community of Cambridge City since the late 1800’s.  K4 worked with the client to create a timeline of the town’s history as part of the bank’s interior remodel.

History Wall Graphics
Wayne Bank & Trust, Cambridge City, IN – Bella Photographics

Banks also have an opportunity to make their branches more inviting by creating graphic representations of their communities within the branches, and offering coffee, bottled water or other amenities. Make your branches a community destination, a place where people want to come and interact. Create that place for social engagement.

Bank Interior Design
First National Bank of Durango, Durango, CO – Bella Photographics

Your physical space is where your customers have their deepest interaction with your brand and develop that relationship with your staff, and isn’t that what Community Banking should be all about – RELATIONSHIPS? As you consider enhancements, make sure they align with your community and your brand’s story.

Encourage human connections. If customers choose to walk into a brick-and-mortar establishment, they have higher expectations. For years they’ve experienced high-touch interactions with “geniuses” eager to help solve their tech problems at the Apple store, and when they walk into your bank, don’t you think they have similar expectations? They want and expect the best sound financial advice that your team can offer to guide them through their personal needs and goals.  However, at many banks, your branch staff are stuck behind a tall, imposing “barrier” counter, minimizing the opportunity to make closer connections and develop that relationship with your team members. When reimagining a bank’s interior, consider changing this dynamic by putting team members in more open and inviting types of situations such as behind open Pods or create conversation area or huddle spaces, to encourage more interaction and consultation, rather than transactions. Your people are your number one asset – make sure your branches showcase them – build that relationship! 

Even with the move to more online and mobile banking, it remains more important than ever for community banks to showcase their value to the communities they serve. Often even minor physical changes can make a big impact on reinforcing this presence.

[1]Mintel research originally appeared in this article: