Where Your Banker Is as Close as the Next Workstation
The transformation of brick-and-mortar offices into high-tech sales centers has become an urgent matter as consumers increasingly transact through digital alternatives, yet branches still generate more sales than any other channel.October 30
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It's called Crossroads and it looks nothing like a bank.
A new branch being built by Lead Bank in Kansas City, Mo., has the look and feel of a tech startup incubator, and its purpose is much the same: to give young tech entrepreneurs a place to meet and work, and by the way, get some banking done.
The branch comes with startup-friendly community space, including a rooftop patio with views of downtown. The patio has already been reserved for a wedding even though the branch will not hold its ribbon-cutting ceremony until early October.
The branch will also house numerous technologies like free Wi-Fi, video-equipped conference rooms, an ATM that can dispense bills of the user's choice, and electric car-charging stations in the parking lot. This is all a departure from the business bank's two existing branches.
Where some within the industry see the branch as destined to die, others like Lead Bank believe brick and mortar will have a long-term role in banking.
"I don't think we have any evidence to support the notion that all consumers and businesses only want to deal online with their bankers," said Josh Rowland, the vice chairman of Lead Bank.
But the oldest channel is getting reimagined for the digital age. And the forthcoming techier branch in Kansas City is an attempt to serve a market located in a bustling business area that skews younger and is home to more than 40 art galleries.
The $140 million-asset institution's project coincides with efforts by banks across the country to remake their branches into advisory hubs as in-person transactions continue to decline. Wells Fargo has been testing small branches for urban areas, for instance. Eastern Bank rolled out a techie branch on a college campus.
Kartik Ramakrishnan, senior vice president at Capgemini Financial Services, said branches will continue to decline in number but will remain critical parts of banks' specialized businesses. Digital channels, after all, are not yet offering customers an easy way to accomplish all of their needs, and some individuals may prefer face-to-face meetings.
Moreover, various research reports show business customers continue to visit branches more than retail customers.
However, by and large, the reinvention of branches for commercial customers has been happening at a much slower pace than the retail branch makeover work long underway, said William McCracken, chief executive of Synergistics Research.
Sure, business owners are branch-centric, but McCracken says they are also busy individuals who likely want to get in and out of the branch.
"Small businesses, in general, aren't looking for a place to hang," McCracken said. "There are not enough hours in the days."
However, he could see such a model suiting an audience of sole proprietors wishing for a place to work from rather than, say, a crowded coffee shop.
Inside the New Millennial Branch
Certainly, Lead Bank's Rowland sees a need to evolve the branch for commercial clients working in an artsy neighborhood.
Instead of private banker offices and tellers behind glass, the new branch — like many other branch of the future models — will include a variety of workstations where bankers and customers can sit side by side.
"We are trying to shake up artificial barriers to interaction in traditional bank branches," Rowland said. "We will not sit behind a desk with a nameplate."
Universal bankers will work from within the new Lead Bank branch to assist visitors regardless of their to-dos.
While rooftop event space is rare, banks are increasingly renting out existing space for the community to use. A survey not yet published by Celent has found that 49% of financial institutions say they have or will create meeting space for customer activities as they no longer require the space they once did.
At Lead Bank, the task of renting out the rooftop space is outsourced to a property manager. Some clients who maintain certain balances will get a special rate to rent the space, say, for their holiday parties.
Synergistics' McCracken believes that perk could potentially make a customer segment feel more valued by the bank.
Lead Bank sees the amenity as a way to continue to be a force within the community — something tech alone cannot accomplish. The branch, for instance, is providing office space for winners of a local tech startup challenge so they can work to expand their businesses.
"Tech is moving," Rowland said. "Today's innovation is what's passé tomorrow. We are not a café," he said. "We are not a place to play board games. We are committed to financial well-being."
To spread the word on the new location and amenities, Lead Bank is planning several events including participation in a big block party that will include art displayed in the parking lot, live bands and food trucks — all seen as a way to play a role in the community.