Is There a Future in Retail Banking? Part II
Ryan Cavanaugh in Retail, Retail Banking

BankUnited defines itself as a Network Bank by creating a cohesive multifunctional environment that integrates meeting and event space with traditional banking functions. Photo © Christopher Payne.

This blog is part of a series on the future of retail banking. Read part I here.

The bank should be about human interactions, not transactions. When talking about shopping and brand loyalty, Gen Z is looking for real, authentic experiences… and these can’t happen online without forging relationships. With the greatest intergenerational transition of wealth in U.S. history anticipated, your bank brand needs to focus on connecting with these young generations. And it better respond quickly if you want to be on the forefront consumers’ minds.

Banks such as Umpqua are leading the way on omnichannel. Putting tellers on customers’ phones makes banking convenient. Now customers don’t have to be in a branch to have access to a real human being—they can have it at home using their smartphones or wearable devices. While improving omnichannel is critical, in order to respond to the growing demand by Gen Z for authentic experiences, retailers must go beyond omnichannel to provide a customer experience-centered approach.

It is critical to not view the physical branch as just another sales channel, but as an important touchpoint along a customer’s journey. A good example of this is the Scottish bank Clydesdale. Clydesdale has a focus on technology, and they bring this innovation to life in the branches where they showcase it in a way that encourages dialogue between the staff and consumers.

The branch should always serve as a vehicle for providing opportunities to learn about the customer and build loyal relationships, as much as to tell the brand story and provide immediate access to services. For example, if someone comes into a store and learns about the brand, has a positive interaction with your employees, discovers new services through digital media, and then goes home and opens up a new savings account online this is a win. Although the ‘sale’ did not happen in the store, the store has served its purpose of providing the human touchpoint of your brand’s omnichannel experience.

Retailer b8ta provides a platform for makers and established brands to interact with consumers to build brand awareness and advocacy. Gensler designed the store to encourage exploration and interaction with the products. Photo©Gensler / Ryan Gobuty.

There does not have to be one solution for how to engage with consumers, and successful banks all over the world are taking different approaches. Banks such as Virgin Money in London are creating spaces that resemble airline lounges to offer consumers relief from the busy streets. MagNet in Budapest created a café where they curate local organic coffee, reflecting the ethical ethos of their brand. Successful banks globally are making technology simple and easy, and creating spaces that enable branches to serve as more than somewhere to just cash your check. They are creating venues for people to come in and learn, work, or even just hang out… and while customers are in your space, you create the opportunity to forge relationships, person-to-person and through the use of digital media.

Your physical store needs to reflect your values, merging your digital experience with your physical one. Even in the examples above, the spaces described each tie back to the brands they represent, creating a more authentic experience that relates well to their respective customer bases. It is critical that the design of the physical space work flawlessly with the design of your digital advertising to create a holistic experience. Thirty-one percent of people report an increase in brand awareness and recall after being exposed to digital advertising. It is essential that we don’t simply create visual noise, but tie the digital to the physical in a way that feels personal, fresh, and memorable. The most successful outcomes of merging a digital expression with the architectural expression result from the collaboration of designers, strategists, and brand experts with a client team. Designing for a customer’s experience must align key components from, as well as interactions among, all three major stakeholders: the company, the consumers, and its employees.

To reach younger generations, banks should build a community of brand loyalists with a seamless transition from online to in-store. In this sense, social media would be the key intermediary. Knowing that 90 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when helped by a knowledgeable associate, it is critical that associates are trained and knowledgeable. Across the industry, teller lines are disappearing, and branches are downsizing as transactions go digital. Customers who are coming in store are more attracted to a concierge-style desk where they feel they are getting a personalized experience tailored to their needs. With their simple transactions being done digitally, this should leave the path clear to increased sales. Employees can now focus on strategizing with consumers on their financial well-being.

For banks willing to react and stay on top of the trends, the recipe should be simple: create meaningful relationships, with the physical branch serving as an incubator for this process. React quickly to consumer needs and start thinking of the branch as an engaging, personal retail experience. Deliver on employee expertise and focus on the customer experience. Each employee is a brand ambassador, and every branch is a brand experience center. Create a holistic environment where digital and physical come together to create an authentic brand experience. Who will sink and who will swim? Only those willing to adapt will survive!

Ryan Cavanaugh is an architect in Gensler’s Atlanta office focused on retail spaces. His passion is in bringing a brand to life in a physical space. By putting the customer first, Ryan is able to create truly unique experiences that combine emotional and sensory elements with architecture. Contact him at
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