There has been a lot of discussion within the financial services industry in recent years about the future of the branch, and what will need to change to keep it relevant in an increasingly digitally-focused environment.
One increasingly popular concept is to strip away many of the trappings of a traditional branch, such as the line of tellers and enclosed, office-like cubicles in favor of a more open-plan, relaxed setting. This encourages customers and employees to interact on a more personal level and can offer a compelling reason for people to use face-to-face services rather than online alternatives.
New flagship stores a sign of things to come?
While some challenger banks such as Metro Bank have experimented with different approaches to the branch – ranging from gimmicks such as ‘pet-friendly’ branches with free dog biscuits to more practical offerings such as seven-day-a-week services and issuing replacement cards in-branch, traditional banks are also looking to get on board with new ways of engaging branch customers.
In the UK, for example, Lloyds has recently invested £3 million ($3.98 million) in a new flagship branch in Manchester that aims to combine the services people expect from their branch with an environment that is more community-focused and convenient.
For instance, one of the more striking features is an in-house coffee bar, allowing customers to sip a freshly-ground latte while discussing their mortgage options. Other features include free Wi-Fi and phone charging to again create a friendly atmosphere and a dedicated digital zone to help introduce customers to online banking for the first time.
Extending the ‘Apple Store approach’
The Lloyds branch has many similarities with the approach taken by tech companies such as Apple in its retail branches. Allowing employees to get out from behind desks and counters and have a more laid-back discussion with customers helps brands connect more effectively with them.
At the same time, the concept of an open space that can be used for community events may help customers view the branch as something more than just a place to get financial services. Instead, treating the branch as more of a social hub is likely to be one of the next ways of ensuring it remains relevant in a more digital age.
Technology will still need to be at the heart of this – not just for customers, but employees too. For example, equipping advisors with tablets may be a crucial step for any branch transformation where the goal is to do away with more traditional ways of dealing with customers and create a less formal atmosphere.
Robin Bulloch, managing director at Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland, said it is vital that bank branches adapt to reflect the changing needs of customers, and providing something more than just a place to complete transactions will be essential.
“While digital services are becoming increasingly important to our customers, we continue to recognize the significant value of human interaction – people want to deal with people when it matters,” Mr. Bulloch added. “That is why branches are not a thing of the past – they just need to be reimagined.”