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Financial Services Firms: Think "Glocal"

Confidential Technology Client San Francisco, Calif., Image © Gensler

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series on the state of the financial services industry.

You have most likely heard the mantra “think global, act local.” Over the years it has been used in various contexts from education to the environment to urge people to consider the health of the planet and to take action in their own communities. Today however, the catchphrase has taken on a much broader meaning because global and local are no longer two diverse ends of a spectrum. We are now asked to be “glocal,” both global and local at the same time. Though many major financial service firms may have their headquarters in the United States, they now have offices, clients and employees in financial markets around the world. Even firms with well-established brands are learning that they need to tailor their workplace designs for these specific markets.

You can look to fast food as an example of the impact of thinking globally and acting locally. Many of America’s biggest fast food brands are now available all over the world. These brands have made menu adjustments based on local tastes and preferences. One such American fried chicken chain serves deep fried corn soup in Japan, fried veggie sticks in India and double down dogs in the Philippines. This chain is KFC, and though these regional menu items are individual to the local market, the restaurant chain itself remains true to the well-known KFC brand.

Some of the largest multinational banking and financial services companies have well-established Workplace & Facility Guidelines or Standards. These were originally developed to reduce design variation across an entire real estate portfolio, to standardize workspace sizes, or to put buying agreements in place to achieve the best pricing with specific furniture manufacturers. Over the past few years, many of these guidelines and standards have evolved. Though they’re still intended to guide the “look and feel” to maintain consistent space standards, furniture, lighting and color palette guidelines in their global workplaces, they are accommodating flexibility to meet unique regional or global project goals, challenges and deadlines.

In some cases they stop at dictating specific solutions. For instance, an office in Europe may use locally sourced finish materials such as carpet and stone that work with the established color palette. Or it could mean that due to high tariffs and surcharges, an office in Latin America may have to purchase furniture manufactured in their own country instead of the U.S. furniture manufacturer with the buying agreement in place. Sometimes a company’s primary brand colors don’t translate literally in other locations throughout the world. T. Rowe Price found that some of their local project counterparts objected to their bright blue branding color being used throughout their interiors because it was viewed as “too bold” for their cultures. In these cases, their Zurich office ended up going with a teal blue color and their Singapore office used a green color within their workplaces. Both of these colors were part of the secondary branding colors so they met the company’s brand guidelines. There are many other examples showing how business solutions vary by location. Global companies may open new offices to grow a new business line with specific drivers, such as attracting and retaining key talent. What attracts people in the Bay Area may not appeal to people in Utah or Frankfurt, Germany. The goal definitely has an impact on the final design solution.

So how can a financial service firm maintain a global brand consistency while incorporating unique elements into the workplace that are authentic to their community? It’s not a one size fits all solution.

Confidential Technology Client Austin, TX, Image © Gensler

What are the ingredients of success?

Standards vs. Guidelines vs. Principles: Consider the Language

By definition, each of these terms sets a very different tone.

  • Standards: Written definition, limit or rule that is approved and monitored for compliance.
  • Guidelines: Recommended practice that allows some discretion in its interpretation, implementation or use.
  • Principles: Fundamental rules that represent what is desirable and positive for a company. (This takes on a more aspirational tone.)

The terms can imply the level of freedom that a local team may or may not have when approaching a new workplace design so think about what message you are trying to send to the real estate and design team as they embark on new workplace projects. It could be as simple as changing the document name.

Introduce a Toolkit

Consider establishing a flexible system of elements to allow for regional expression. Toolkits are a series of interrelated components that deliver specific functional needs, such as workspace size, finish and technology options. The components provide everything that is required to support the work, but they acknowledge the vitality that cultural impact can make and allow solutions to be tailored accordingly. The toolkits could include space planning methodology to address both the larger floorplate sizes in the United States as well as smaller floorplates with required access to windows for natural light and ventilation found in Europe.

Let the Brand Shine Through

One of the most successful ways to be both global and local is to develop a strong brand strategy that can transcend nationality. This should include the core elements of a company that allow the brand’s core to remain recognizable no matter where it is, but allow the use of colors and imagery to give a connection to a place. The expression of these can actually boost the brand by making it relevant to a local market.

For example, JPMC’s branding guidelines include the use of local maps and imagery graphics to tie back to the local area or region. T. Rowe Price employs local artists to commission select art pieces to reflect a sense of community. However, both of these global companies include a history wall in every location to highlight the key elements in a company’s growth that tie all of the locations together. Even just a few of these moments within a space can craft the story of the company for clients and employees, and they add local personality in the final workplace design.

Workplaces that celebrate their individual offices’ local culture, amplify a companies’ brand and purpose and join people together can create inspiring environments for financial service firm clients and employees around the globe.

Anne is a regional leader for the Financial Service Firms practice area and a Workplace Studio Director in the Newport Beach office. To stay at the forefront of emerging trends and key drivers, Anne actively leads initiatives tied to strategic programming, benchmarking, performance and design. She focuses on developing workplace strategies that support her clients’ businesses and help to drive creativity and innovation in their workplaces. Contact her at anne_bretana@gensler.com .