Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a group of executives from some of the world’s largest financial institutions all agreed that it was time to be the kind of leaders who would disrupt their own industries - before someone else did. With this in mind, forward-thinking banks have been grappling with how to make the bank branch experience relevant and memorable for today’s highly expectant customer.

Since 2008, more than one-fifth of bank branches in Europe have shut down. With over 9000 European branches closed in 2016 (a reduction of 4%), the locations that do survive will need a compelling, customer-centric raison d’être. As routine transactions continue to migrate online, customers will be looking for high-value interactions at a branch that they can’t get online.  So how do we re-engineer the brick and mortar experience to be in touch with the digital reality of today’s customer?

Re-orient to the customer instead of products and channels

Rather than selling products and services, branches need to switch gears and create helpful and memorable experiences for customers.The traditional format of queuing in line to speak with a teller is slowly being replaced with open concept spaces that are designed as meet-up places, where customers can interact with banking professionals.  Conversations are now not based on pushing lending products but instead are focused on helping customers manage their finances and get ahead.

Become a wealth management advisory hub

As customers take more responsibility for their financial planning and well-being, they expect their banks to walk alongside them and provide this support. According to PWC, wealth management services need to be as readily as available as deposit-taking is now. They predict that banks without a strong wealth offering and expertise will lose out on market share.

Be relevant to your demographic

From wifi cafes to movie nights, and early yoga morning classes, banks are paying attention to regional demographics in an effort to be relevant to their community. But one size does not fit all when it comes to new bank formats and re-design. What works at a branch in London will not necessarily work in Barcelona. Let your customers determine that.

Leverage the inherent value of a branch using technology

Branches have a number of inherent advantages. In particular, their brand reach is unbeatable. McKinsey estimates the value of the physical presence of one US bank in just one market is equivalent to millions of dollars of annual marketing. According to McKinsey, the banks that will succeed in the future will seamlessly integrate omni-channel offerings with the inherent value of branches. Technology should be used at the branch to create meaningful exchanges that ultimately build trust with the ‘always connected’ customer.  From their perspective, the branch is just one more way —along with online, mobile, call centres, and other means—to interact with the bank.

As banks begin to invest in creating their own version of the ideal bank branch experience, customers will continue to push the bar higher. Their expectations are based on their interactions with other retailers who seamlessly integrate multi-channel offerings with in-person experiences – with no obstacles. Digital tools have to be measured up to the question: does this truly serve our customers? With this kind of customer-centric digital approach, banks can transform their branch presence to offer experiences that are more helpful and relevant for customers.

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