Steven Cone, Keycorp's chief marketing executive, has a big idea that could change the way people think about bank branches.
While many bankers seem ready to write off their aging and costly brick- and-mortar infrastructures, Mr. Cone wants to take the physical locations to a new level, much as warehouse retailers like Home Depot and Sam's Club changed the face of their industry.
Mr. Cone is drawing up plans for "superstores" - department stores or mini-malls anchored by the bank, where shoppers can meet many of their needs, including financial services.
The former Citicorp and American Express marketer, who joined Cleveland- based Keycorp last year as an executive vice president, is somewhat guarded about the specifics, but he said he hopes to have pilot locations up and running in Seattle, Syracuse, N.Y., and Columbus, Ohio, by mid-1996.
The objective is to turn traditional notions of bank marketing on their heads, and make Keycorp - with partner retailers in such fields as appliances, home improvement, and travel - a desirable destination rather than just a necessary stop.
Just as one might find a Polo or Armani boutique in a large department store, the Keycorp superstore might include high-end items such as personal computers. What's more, it might stay open all night.
Consider Nike Town, the flashy sports shoe and apparel store with locations in Portland, Ore., and Chicago. Then imagine, as does Mr. Cone, a 45-year-old jogger, a bank branch on the premises.
"There's really no reason for anyone to stay in a bank today, unless they desperately need a loan," said Mr. Cone. "We want our customers to have an experience they won't forget, so that they'll come back and do more business."
"Basically," he continued, "the concept is to bring local and regional retailers under one roof. I see one-stop shopping for major lifestyle decisions."
Keycorp's superstores would be part of a larger strategy to tailor the bank to customers' needs. Mr. Cone said he is convinced they can draw people to banks in a new way. This runs counter to the widely held notion that banks should go to where the people already are, for example, via electronic delivery systems or supermarket branches.
But Kevin Tynan, president of Tynan Marketing Inc. in Chicago, said fighting consumer trends is often a losing proposition. With the superstores, he said, Keycorp would be trying to persuade its customers to radically alter their banking and shopping habits.
He also suggested that the idea was a rehash of the supermarket banking strategy.
"It seems like they're trying to be more than a bank. And anytime banks get out of their primary business - trying to be more than the customer needs - they fail," said Mr. Tynan. "Banks should go where they find their customers."
Fred A. Cummings, an analyst at McDonald & Co. Investments in Cleveland, also said the notion of making a bank a destination seemed to run counter to customer demands for convenience.
"I don't know if consumers are quite ready for something like that," he said. "Even with Nike, you've got the core product you want to buy. But most people just don't want to go into a bank - I don't know what would entice them."
He said Mr. Cone is "a little ahead of himself."
Mr. Cone relishes being out there. At a recent Bank Administration Institute conference, he said, "We need breakthrough marketing" to meet growth targets like Keycorp's 10% to 15% a year. He aims to "excite customers, create news, and be personal" through innovative direct marketing and sales approaches.
The superstores would be "totally different retail selling environments" in the league of Home Depot or PetSmart.
Larry Price, publisher of Bank Marketing magazine in Washington, questioned whether customers could be won over to do more business at a banking location. But he said he was intrigued by the potential convenience of a superstore.
"Right now, it seems like it's more of a challenge to do your banking," he said. "This would be a step in the right direction."
Mr. Cone brushed aside a question about whether customers would view a bank as less than serious if it looked like Nike Town.
"I don't think people are that naive," he said. "They see our other branches. They see our products and services. This shows we have a little personality."