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The Space Between

We bank customers generally enter bank branches with a very specific motive: to cash or deposit a check, visit a safe deposit box, sign a document, etc. We often don’t want to be interrupted by a sales person but rather just seek the convenience of a quick in-and-out transaction. And increasingly we want to do as much of our banking as we can online or on our mobile phones without interference.

But money is complicated, especially in an economy where each investment or expenditure is carefully considered and new rules and regulations add layers of complication. Customers are using the internet and social networks to gather as much research as possible before making commitments. Then, if questions remain unanswered, the ability to connect to an experienced, professional advisor in person is crucial.

Here’s my issue, though, as a consumer: when I walk into a bank, I just want answers to my questions – I don’t want to feel pressured to buy something or sign up for a new account. I want to trust that the bank understands my needs, and isn’t just focused on their own bottom line. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, so with the changing tide of consumer behavior, it seems that banks have an opportunity to shift their focus from transactions, to relationships with customers – especially in the physical bank branch that is no longer our first-choice venue for those transactions.

Walking into the bank, traditionally designed branches often feature tellers on one side of the space and private offices on the other side. The space between becomes void of any significant interaction but rather is filled by promotional signage, brochures, and forms.

Based on our experience researching the way people work and interact in physical office spaces, we’re realizing the significant roles that collaborating, socializing and learning play in our daily routine – thus spaces for each type of interaction are critical.

In a bank branch the space between the tellers and offices needs to become that collaboration and learning space: the space where the bank is offering a personal understanding of its products rather than simply offering products. Informal kiosks and consultation zones become educational resources rather than sales tools. And ultimately the bank and its employees are building relationships with the customers, rather than merely performing transactions.

Lance Boge is a former design director for Gensler’s global retail practice, and principal in our New York office. With over 30 years of experience in branded environments, prototype and retail design, Lance directed the practice with a keen awareness of the impact that consumer insights, research and trends have on the built environment.

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