Slideshow Seven banks vying to create the branch of the future

  • March 23 2017, 3:29pm EDT

At a time when customers are rapidly switching to digital banking, scores of branches are closing. But many institutions — mindful that brick-and-mortar locations remain a critical sales channel — are also experimenting with physical layouts that are focused on technology and generally smaller than traditional branches. In some cases, they have even done away with employees. Here is a look at some of the designs that banks have built as they seek to fuse the physical with the digital.

Bank of America

This year, the Charlotte, N.C., bank started testing employee-less branches — Bank of America calls them virtual centers. They feature ATMs and videoconference rooms, where customers can consult with mortgage loan officers and other specialists. The $2.2 trillion-asset bank has opened three of the branches — two in Colorado and one in Minnesota.

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Capital One

The McLean, Va., lender has opened 18 Capital One Cafes around the country, which are designed for customers of Capital One 360, the company’s online bank. The café branches are mostly located in big metropolitan areas — including Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles — that are outside of the East Coast-centric footprint of the company’s traditional branch network. Visitors can use free Wi-Fi, buy a discounted cup of coffee, withdraw money from an ATM, or talk to a banker about opening an account.

PNC Bank

PNC debuted its portable pop-up branch in 2013. The 20-foot-by-8-foot steel container weighs 8,000 pounds. It costs about one-tenth what a typical branch might cost to build, according to the Pittsburgh-based bank. Employees use iPads to offer new accounts and personal loans, as well as referrals for other products. PNC has operated pop-up branches in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago and Morgantown, W.Va.

Eastern Bank

Eastern, a $9.8 billion-asset institution in Boston, opened a 350-square-foot branch on a community college campus in Lawrence, Mass., in 2014. The branch is located in a student union building, and shares space with a restaurant and bookstore. Its features include a cellphone charging station, two wall-mounted touch screens, which can be used to play financial literacy games, and a private room for high-definition videoconferences with bankers in other locations.

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Citizens Bank

Citizens, in Providence, R.I., is in the process of shrinking many of its more than 1,200 branches. The idea is to transform the branch from a place where customers make transactions to one designed for providing financial advice. Citizens said last year that it plans ultimately to reduce the footprint of its retail network by as much as 50%.

Umpqua Bank

Umpqua, a $24.8 billion-asset institution based in Oregon, has long been a leader in reimagining the bank branch. The company has hosted yoga classes, homeowner association meetings and Oktoberfest-style parties featuring beer and pretzels. Umpqua operates more than 60 locations that are less than 2,500 square feet, including many that are less than 1,500 square feet.

BMO Harris

In 2015, BMO Harris opened a tellerless branch in Chicago. Since then the Canadian-owned bank has opened four more so-called smart branches. The branches rely on video ATMs, through which tellers in remote locations help customers to deposit, withdraw or transfer cash. Employees are also on site for more complex transactions. Bill Downe, CEO of the bank’s parent, BMO Financial Group, has said that the innovations in these branches will ultimately be used throughout the company’s retail footprint.