Barclays Bank has become the first bank in Europe to pilot Microsoft's Surface technology at a groundbreaking new branch in London that opened in December 2008 and takes its inspiration from leading retailers such as Apple and Nike.
The site, underneath the iconic Piccadilly lights, was acquired by Barclays earlier in 2008 and was developed into the first "brand concept" bank branch in the UK, covering 8,000 square feet of retail space over three floors and making extensive use of new technology and design.
At its centrepiece, the branch features an evolving video wall installation designed to graphically represent London life using content from blogs and customer interests while personal consoles enable people to contribute to the installation and explore relevant information from listings magazine Time Out.
Outside of opening hours, the front of the branch will be transformed into the 'Night Life' screen. This installation picks up the image of passers-by using face recognition technology and cameras and creates moving silhouettes on the screen together with thought bubbles containing random messages.
The interior of the branch has open cashier counters with no glass screens and features floor walking cashiers armed with laptops to help with customer queries. The branch also uses Microsoft's Surface technology to enable users to grab digital content with their hands and navigate information about Barclays' Premier banking account with simple gestures and touches.
A large self-service area includes a foreign ATM dispensing dollars and Euros and deposit machines for cash, cheques and coins. In another innovation, the branch will be open seven days a week from 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and 12pm to 5pm on Sundays.
In addition to launching its fashionable concept branch, Barclays is undertaking an ongoing refurbishment of the entire branch network in the UK (currently 1,733 branches) after extensive staff and customer consultation.
Finextra verdict: Don't expect all the features in the flagship branch to filter down to local high streets across the country. But as a way to align the Barclays brand with "cool" technology, and as a venue for studying how customers react to different service models, this "branch of the future" provides some substance as well as style.