Trawling through the mass of articles reporting the closure – or planned closure - of large numbers of bank branches worldwide, you would be forgiven for thinking the end of branch banking was nigh. It is true that digital banking is fundamentally reshaping
the way that we transact. However, for much of the world, digital banking is still taking off. Branches are plentiful – and many customers still need to access them to complete their daily financial transactions. So it has been refreshing to see an increasing
number of stories about the myriad ways banks are imagining what future bank branches will be like.
The most common theme has been of banks experimenting with branches equipped with more technology in a smaller space. These techno-branches incorporate a range of innovations such as highly functional kiosks, offering video ATM's, cash recycling and tablet-like
touch screens, video walls and biometric identification. In all cases there are very little staff onsite. The emphasis here is on cost reduction. Check out Bradesco Next (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JssC6I3Tbzg)
and Citibank Smart Bank in Japan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHV3-qNcPYo).
In other cases, there are branches where teller counters are gone and bank staff mingle with customers. They fulfil diverse roles from offering help with transactions to dispensing advice on various products the bank offers. The emphasis here is on customer
service and identifying product needs. Check out Wells Fargo (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324010704578416551373900508).
For me, the most interesting example has been the concept of a financial spa - a branch with soft music in the background, the customer relaxing with a cappuccino by a fountain, surrounded by works of local artists and the scent of aromatherapy candles,
while talking loans and insurance with a banker. This is a real branch, launched by North Shore Credit Union in Vancouver, Canada (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-22152611).
So will these concepts work? A branch with a smorgasbord of the latest technologies would initially pique my curiousity. Scented candles and soothing music are always welcome – but will they be enough to entice me to give my custom to one bank over another?
As a professional, working business hours and living in the Philippines, I regularly use bank branches. So I have a wish list:
#1 - No queues. I can't afford to be away from the office for long during business hours so I want my visit to my branch to be quick.
#2 - A secure and well-lit branch open in the evening or at weekends where I can drop in after work and do what I need to do. A warm welcome from branch staff would be a bonus!
#3 - Helpful, knowledgeable and sincere bank staff who can give me advice when I make a life-decision such as taking out a mortgage or a business loan or making an investment.
#4 - My bank (who doesn't have a large branch network like HSBC or Citibank) could benefit by forming a global network in partnership with other banks (similar to airline alliances). This would give me the flexibility to access my accounts wherever I am.
As we see banks experiment with branch redesign I hope they start out simple and focus on the fundamentals. Implementing a queue management system integrated with teller systems is a simple thing to do, but it would have a big impact on the customers’ experience
What's your wish list?