by Rick Driftmier

Each year The Driftmier Architects participates in several association conferences where we interact with the staff and board members of many banks and credit unions. This fall the overriding question asked was, “Where is branch design going in the new economy?”

Branch facilities are moving from substantial and secure to open and convenient. The security barriers provided by teller counters and layered access in the past are becoming less important as newer security measures like cash recyclers are being installed.

While transactions are cheaper to provide online, more than 80% of product sales occur in the branch. So the challenge is to get more customers into the branch. The idea of the branch being a significant part of the community has never been more important. Innovative designs that invite consumers into the branch are critical for continued growth.

The branch is becoming a cross selling platform with access to information, new products and areas for financial research conveniently displayed. This approach needs to be focused on products that can be purchased in the branch and not be just another connection to the Internet. Your customers/members can and will do that at home. The branch should be a place to create, inform and close sales opportunities.

With transactions moving to the Internet, there are fewer transactions taking place in the branch. Staff needs to be cross trained so that a smaller staff can address the needs of each person who enters. Layouts need to be flexible and allow for staff movement to greet each person who enters, provide customer services, complete transactions and above all, cross sell.

While the design of each branch is dependent upon the institution’s brand, services and community, it needs to be focused on the needs and expectations of their current and future customers/members. Trends are toward:
• Cost efficiency with smaller staffs and branches that are focused on cross selling products. With the branch network providing 80% of your sales, cost efficiency is critical.
• Environmental responsibility is a hot trend in retail design. The use of environmentally responsible materials and design elements conveys a sense of social responsibility and increases your brand’s connection with the community.
• Brand reinforcement through branches that function as retail centers is nothing new. But using the branch to build the brand and selling product is likely the most important design element over the next few years.

Branch design needs to promote free interaction with the interior environment, products and staff. Large flat screens with news and information, research materials related to products and opportunities, and retail like product displays create a cross selling environment. Fireplaces, kid’s play corners and inviting reading areas encourage customers to stay and learn more.

While your customer base still includes baby boomers, it increasingly is made up of social media dependent millennials and all sorts of people in between. To address the needs of all of your customers/members it is important to provide a relationship-based environment for the more traditional, while also providing a self-service environment for the more progressive. Today’s consumer demands convenience, service and ease of use.

Modern branch design will be open and welcoming and will create a strong sense of community. Institutions who use branch design to reinforce their brand while creating a dynamic sales environment will achieve the highest levels of profitability and success.

What are your thoughts? If you have comments or questions, please forward them to rick