Banking on Change: Are branches heading for extinction?

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With digitisation promising to automate and improve many banking processes and customers opting for online banking more and more, the bank branch concept as we knew it may have seemed doomed to extinction, right? Not so it seems, as banks turn this challenge into a significant opportunity.


Historically, bank branches may not have been very inspiring places to visit. But against a background of declining in-branch transactions and a changing client demographic, banks are reinventing themselves out of necessity. And this is not only technology based, but in actual physical customer experience. In the age of social media and digitisation, customers long for a more engaging experience. They want to feel like they are cared for – and the bank of the future needs to meet this need as well.

Generations X and Y will dominate the financial space in the next few decades. Their share of financial assets, which sat at just 36% in 2010 will jump to 70% in 2030. For Gen Yers, it’s only the beginning of what will be a 40-50 year experience as workers consumers, savers, borrowers and investors.

Daniel Knoll, Head of Financial Services Management Consulting for KPMG Australia

According to KPMG’s research (see KPMG) banks of the future will be less about transactions and more about services such as financial advice and loan applications, and in a convenient and low cost package.

As a proving ground for new concepts and ideas in banking design and technology application, we are seeing leading banks launch flagship branches to attract the attention of customers with their innovative products and services set in an interactive space. Demonstrating this are 3 recently completed branches in the Sydney CBD – ANZ’s flagship at 20 Martin Place, plus NAB and HSBC’s branches in the newly completed 333 George St.

So what’s different?

Apart from the tech side of things, what we are seeing in these branches are designs that engage the customer in a very appealing atmosphere. We’re seeing concepts borrowed from the office fitout world such as private meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and breakout zones. We’re seeing finishes that depart from the stereotype utilitarian finishes of the “old” banks, with natural timbers, glass, stainless steel and solid surfaces providing a quality architectural feel. And with a reduction in leasehold base footprint, we’re also seeing banks go up – 2 floors and even 3 floors in the case of ANZ. However, even with this, the major difference is the bank is actually inviting the client to take the journey from the tellers to the different spaces, providing both stairs and elevators to do so.

ANZ 20 Martin Place certainly seems to be getting it right, with reports of numerous people coming into the branch simply to enquire what the branch is about; is it a bank, what does it do and so on. This branch has been designed to encompass all-new technologies and represents the ultimate retail banking experience. Designed with the customer in mind, the branch is more inviting and less confronting and definitely less utilitarian; providing customers with access to practical financial information, free education and leading digital solutions. The focal point of the fitout is the staircase that allows both staff and clients to freely move throughout the fitout and encourages collaboration. It also serves as a viewing platform to the incredible interactive “live” greenwall where bank clients whether inside or outside of the bank can add their own creative touches via Twitter.

The Martin Place flagship for ANZ was to be the pinnacle of their new digital branch design roll out, supporting a new customer experience and to engage with the public more. The lynch-pin for the stair in the Martin Place fitout was to enhance that customer journey through from the tellers downstairs, up through the sales areas and through the private meeting spaces.

Garry Slater, Director, Interiors at WMK Architecture


Similarly, 333 George Street, NAB’s flagship bank changes the stereotypical branch design to meet the changing needs of their clientele. The hub of the building, the staircase invites customers to look around, guiding them through the new banking experience. A unique informal step meeting zone has been created right at the entry point, providing clients and staff with a place to sit and discuss, or simply take time out.

The design is all about making it easier for Australian to have all their financial needs met in the one location, whether that’s buying a house, saving for retirement or starting a business.

Andrew Hagger, NAB’s Chief Customer Service Officer for Consumer Banking and Wealth

HSBC’s Flagship Premier Branch also focuses on the customer, with the contemporary design providing a relaxed environment that allows customers and staff to collaborate, communicate and connect more efficiently.

Banks are looking to change that whole branch experience, going away from a teller based design. The concept is to pull people into branches with a better customer experience; give them a reason to leave their computers and come into a branch.

Ben Voorderhake, Senior Designer, Davenport Campbell


So is this what the future of banking looks like? If the success of these 3 branches is anything to go by, then we think this is certainly on the way to it. Demonstrating not only a response to the clear changes in customer needs and behaviours, these branches, more importantly, represent a solid commitment from the banking sector to deliver a transformative customer experience.

And will we keep seeing the old familiar tellers? If current trends are anything to go by, the days of the cross-counter teller with bandit screens could well be numbered, so watch this space!


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