The traditional branch: Not everyone’s ‘piece of cake’

 In Blog, Featured

This is a follow-up to an earlier blog post, “The new branch: Everyone’s ‘cup of tea’?,” and there may be some who correctly predicted that this post was likely to happen.

In my previous post I wrote about the tie-in of Capital One with Peet’s Coffee, and about the Capital One branch-café at the corner of Boulder’s famous Pearl Street Mall, where the branch manager happily introduces himself as the “café master”!

The theme of that post — innovation — is becoming contagious and isn’t limited just to what financial institutions are planning for the branch. Other industries with satellite operations are rethinking their presence in the marketplace as well.

Banks may be where we go for cash but as anyone who has glanced inside a branch office of late may appreciate, they might also be where we end up going for technical advice, frequently when it pertains to the devices we carry with us and depend upon to complete purchases on line.

This is not something that current purveyors of technical advice are ignoring even as the footsteps of FIs may be closing in on them.

For example, it is well worth considering the changes now underway at the “branch offices” of industry giant Apple. Perhaps their retail stores aren’t branch offices, strictly speaking, but for argument’s sake, let this just be a fine line worth crossing.

Apple is acknowledging that its Apple Stores, in combination with Apple Music and Apple Care, “have become a faster-growing source of money that the flagship iPhone.”

Surprised? I, for one, was caught out by the comments of an Apple executive in a recent story by CBS News.

Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple, told CBS that the project underway is “a complete retail overhaul — one that will make the tech giant the new Starbucks.”

And here’s the message for banks: If you truly want to market new products and continue to effectively pursue cross-selling and upselling opportunities, put distance between what has served you so well in the past and move more quickly to tap the changing patterns of society.

Banks have opened branches on Main Street, near transportation hubs, and inside malls and supermarkets, but is this enough? Are they attracting enough traffic to warrant the staffing levels or the horrendous amounts of cash on hand?

To Apple’s credit, they aren’t simply bridging the world of tech with the world of coffee, but rather, working to co-opt one of the most important marketing messages Starbucks has leveraged for years, as Ahrendts told CBS:

Starbucks figured it out, you know? Being a gathering place … right? ‘Meet me at Starbucks.’ … I’ll know we’ve done a really, really great job if the next generation, if Gen Z says, ‘Meet me at Apple. Did you see what’s going on at Apple today?’

What Apple is now doing is revamping how its stores look to make them a more interesting place to visit.

“The new store format will have spaces for classes and meetings, new screens and hardware,” Ahrendts said. And, serving more as a novelty than any useful purpose, a “Genius Grove,” a tree-lined area where the Genius Bar once was.

In addition to traditional IT services, creative professionals such as photographers will be onsite, Ahrendts said.

Maybe, just maybe, FIs with branch networks should integrate not only with coffee shops like Starbucks and Peet’s, but also with Apple.

In their never-ending search to remain relevant, FIs looking at their investment in networks of branch offices might team up with local stores offering IT services — not necessarily Apple or even Microsoft, but national big-box electronics stores.

Could Best Buy become your go-to place for Best Cash? This might not be everyone’s piece of cake, but FIs are in the service industry just as they are in the banking industry and, particularly with retail banking, an absence of customers would sound the death knell for continued operation.

FIs face some very tough times. Automation is making its presence felt — and not just with ATMs. At the 2016 ATMIA US conference, we saw a demonstration of how a “silo” with a robotic arm could supplant the branch office entirely. Have it dispense a good cup of coffee and, well …

Innovation and the continuing need to innovate are contagious among FIs. The automation of cash dispensing was a starting point for many, but that was decades ago. What really innovative thinking since has proved as dominating as ATMs?

But do we need to convert our branch offices into something completely different? Perhaps not, but we cannot afford not to convert the way we interact with our customers.

“Meet me at the bank?” might not sound all that enticing, but just a few tweaks here and there — and with the services and community they foster — it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see what FIs come up with next.

Who knows? It might not just be coffee, but in a literal interpretation of having your cake and eating it, too, there might be a slice or two served right along with that coffee!

by Richard Buckle for

photo istock

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