As design professionals in the financial arena, it is not uncommon to hear “What is the branch of the future?” or “What is the competition doing that we should be thinking about?” This is a unique situation because there is not a clear direction that has been established. K4 is currently working on 15 to 20 projects and no two are doing the same thing! Community banks & credit unions need to be creative with their approach to the “Branch of the Future” because innovation is a proven path to differentiation and competitiveness. The mentality of “this is the way that things have always been done” needs to be completely eliminated and replaced with a long-term commitment to branch transformation that goes well beyond just technology upgrades.
Branch design is evolving in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:
- The decreasing size and footprints of the facilities
- The overall facility design, including exteriors and interiors
- The shift towards a more retail-oriented space
- The staff and types of personal services versus automation/technology
- The new role of the facility itself within the community
The new design basis should consider that people need to connect with other people in order to feel confident about financial issues, but the delivery method can vary. Whether privately or in an open environment, or in a high-tech or more traditional branch – let people choose their preferred experience in order to create confidence.
Branch footprints will get significantly smaller as branches continue to evolve due to the changes and the types of services that will be provided. Multiple K4 clients have inquired about reducing the overall size of their prototype branches, as well as how they might be able to downsize their existing branches, and re-purpose the balance of the space for other uses or potentially other tenants.
From the branch exterior to the interior, it will be important to think about brand consistency. Branch exteriors will be more visible and inviting to members and customers and more in line with retail oriented facilities. The building exteriors will have an exterior branded theme, such as the iconic architectural element, and a consistent pallet of materials and vibrant colors, to capture people’s attention and make the building stand out from the competition. New branch facilities should also be transparent with lots of glass to convey the message that they are open and inviting. And finally, the overall curb appeal can be enhanced with appropriate landscaping and exterior lighting to make the building a beacon to the community both day and night.
From the interior, the primary lobby spaces will be open, inviting, and comfortable environments with attractive color schemes that make connections to the brand and to the community. The use of warm tones and soft curved features, combined with comfortable and attractive furniture, will add to the first impression upon entrance of the facility. Pods or customer interaction counters break away from the traditional barrier-type teller counters and offer a more progressive, collaborative, and open concept. Many clients say it offers a more personalized level of service. New levels of technology will be introduced such as smart ATM’s or Interactive Teller Machines where transactions are handled by real time video from staff that will be located in call centers or a centralized location.
Within the centralized open lobby space will be digital message centers, touch screen technology, virtual sales, and cross channel integration, which will become the normal mode of operation to provide a seamless and omni-channel branch experience. It is also important that the environmental graphics convey a sense of the local geography and a connectivity to the community and the history of your organization.
Although technology will be integrated more into the branches of the future, it will be increasingly important not to lose sight of the human element. People still want to have access to real people, and a trained staff needs to be accessible. The concepts of greeters and Universal Bankers or Universal Associates are introduced, who are well versed in all the services you offer, but are also very skilled in terms of communication and sales. As transactions continue to decline within the facilities, branches will transform from transactional based to advisory based training and sales centers, taking advantage of every possible client touch point, not to mention providing a better ROI for the bank by maximizing staffing and operational efficiencies.
Offices within the branches will be more visible and open, if they have offices at all. Not only will branches be designed with open counters, but there will also be spaces for social interaction and engagement.
The new facilities will be designed to promote an environment for guidance and instruction on how to use the new technology or make members or customers aware of the various products and services and offer alternatives that best suit their needs and lifestyle, to make the right decisions for their financial well-being. If they want a more private area to discuss financial matters or to review their options for services, branches will be equipped with conference centers or personal meeting spaces that are equipped with new technology and video-teleconferencing. If the Universal Associates cannot answer the question there at the facility, they can provide access through the real time video to someone who can answer their question or address the concerns.
Banks and credit unions should evaluate other non-financial services or product offerings that will bring the right kind of traffic into their facilities. Consider options like a mixed used branch – a café or coffee bar, meeting or huddle spaces, or space for social interaction to engage with the community and encourage repeat visits to the branch. In the digital age, many industries are trying new ways to get customers into their locations and increase their time spent there to foster relationship building and enhance customer service opportunities.
In order to stay competitive in today’s financial markets, it is important to be willing to change and adapt, or risk becoming obsolete. Today’s financial environment warrants not only the skill and will to adapt to change but also the foresight to anticipate it! It is crucial that community banks and credit unions know and understand the importance of their market saturation and the demographic make-up of the communities that they support. Branches of the future will need to be convenient, open, comfortable, and accessible to all ages; including the right combination of branch transformation elements – facility design, people, and technology integration to create a seamless banking experience and reinforce the ultimate customer relationship.