Not long ago, banks seemed ready to start boarding up and closing down branches because technology was about to replace physical banking.
Over time, branches are now proving to be just as important to and embraced by bank customers as ever.
Of course, we all can utilize new, newer and the newest technologies to transact banking business anywhere we want at any time we want.
Somewhat surprisingly, we find that customers still frequently seek a physical connection as part of the process – “physical” as in human interaction, and in an actual structure to conduct their business.
“Bank branches are not going away – they are evolving,” says Phil Baldwin, Citizens Bank CEO.
Contrary to earlier dire predictions, bank customers obviously aren’t looking to abandon branches. Instead, they are just seeking a different experience.
That is the challenge Citizens Bank faced as it began planning for a new headquarters building in Batesville. The Board of Directors wanted something that didn’t look or feel like a traditional bank.
Architects charged with creating this new banking home were dispatched to other regions of the U.S. in search of inspiration for a unique banking design.
The result is a bright, colorful and open facility, with warm wood tones and visibility throughout the space – a very different presence that draws customers into Citizens Bank, and encourages them to stay awhile after they complete their business.
Today in retail banking, the elements of technology, people and space are coming together in unique ways.
Continually emerging technology allows access to our financial needs online, on our phone – even on our wristwatch! Bank staff are becoming more attuned to better handle all of your banking needs. And the physical design of the bank is becoming more comfortable and welcoming.
“Citizens Bank believes our branches are an extension of our personality as a bank, a visual brand that speaks to who we are and what we want to be,” said Phil Baldwin. “We want our branches to be fun and exciting, to create a customer experience – a marriage of old fashioned ‘handshake banking’ and technology that makes it easy for customers to engage with us.”
Nationwide, banks are reversing the former trend, and launching sizable branch expansion initiatives to better fit customer expectations.
This expansion could be prompted, too, by bankers’ recognition that they are not only bankers, but also members of the community, who provide important services to their neighbors and friends.
People obviously want to engage with businesses (including banks) that are similarly dedicated to the progress and success of local people and the community.
“You can connect with customers on a transactional basis through technology,” Baldwin said. “But technology doesn’t do a great job connecting emotionally. Branch experiences are what create that emotional connection. It makes sense then that the role of employees in our branches is becoming even more important.”
Chuck Jones is Chief Communications Officer at Citizens Bank in Batesville.