Seven Things You Can Do Today to Create Your Branch of the Future

By Raja Bose

Retail banking branches have gotten a lot of attention over the past 18 months. Robust digital-channel adoption and rapidly changing consumer behavior have made the branch as we know it today irrelevant to many of us.

The problem (or rather, the opportunity) is that branches still account for the majority of all new banking relationships and accounts. Why? Because consumers still want a personal relationship with their financial institution.

Dismiss all those preconceived notions that Gen Y and Millennials have no use for the branch. It is absolutely true that younger generations have taken to online banking and mobile banking faster than other generations, and that they see little value in going to the branch to transact business. However, younger generations actually prefer to go to the branch more than older generations when it comes to starting a new relationship, opening a new account or solving a complex problem.

We’ve all seen pictures of ultra-modern branches – sorry; stores — with ceiling-to-floor digital walls, tablet-carrying staff and gourmet coffee for consumers as they lounge on fancy Italian leather couches. While I commend these new designs, most of the banks and credit unions in the U.S. aren’t vying for a photo spread in Architectural Digest. They are trying to do the best with the branches they have.

The good news is that you can start to meaningfully transform your branches today without having to build a new (and expensive) showpiece branch. Most of the changes should focus on making changes to the consumer experience – because ultimately, that’s really what branch transformation is about.

Here are seven things you can do today to create your branch of the future:

1. Upgrade your branch staff. Right away.

What does your branch have that your digital channels do not (other than cash)? People. Your people. You know — the ones that are responsible for representing your brand to your consumers. Too many institutions have dedicated tellers to transact for consumers and platform staff for everything else. As fewer consumers come to the branch to simply transact, this division of labor no longer makes sense. Unfortunately, previous attempts to cross-train tellers to be more sales-focused have produced mixed results at best. Invest in the right people, give them the right consumer-experience goals and sales goals and the tools they need, and you will see a change.

2. Create your choreography.

Once you have your new staff, you have to tell them what to do and how. This is where you can create the unique branch experience that brings consumers back. Think of the little things that employees do at places like Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, Trader Joe’s or Costco that make you want to come back. What could you do in your branch to create that differentiating experience? Financial institutions have deployed branch “concierges” for some time, but most of the time, these employees simply tell consumers where to go to get served. The more-successful deployments have employees meet consumers upon arrival and stay with them throughout their entire branch visit.

3. Change the environment.

Assuming that making major changes to your branch layout is too costly, what else could you do to make your branch more inviting, comfortable and easy to navigate? Consider changes to furniture or lighting to make it more comfortable. Is there any place in your branch for consumers to privately sit and think through their finances? Consider reconfiguring so you have clearly distinguishable zones for certain functions – such as transactions, service, learning, advice, etc.

4. Bring self-service inside the branch.

Today, if consumers decide to forgo your drive-thru ATMs or vestibule ATMs and come into your branch, you have no other option than to have a teller conduct their transactions for them. Consider deploying additional self-service devices to not only provide your consumers with another opportunity to use self-service, but also to provide your employees with an opportunity to demonstrate how self-service works and the value that it can provide to your customers. I have seen several instances where deploying self-service in the branch not only drives additional transaction migration (reducing your cost to serve), but also improves the branches sales performance. This is also a great tool to properly on-board your consumers without having to take them outside.

5. Connect your digital channels with your branch.

Historically, branches have been digital islands. There has been very little connectivity to other channels. Today’s consumers expect to start a transaction in one channel and pick it up in another seamlessly. If I can use my smartphone to check the wait time and place myself in line for an $11 haircut, shouldn’t I be able to do that for a $250,000 mortgage? Consumers have repeatedly shown that they prefer online and offline integration. What does that mean in your branch?

6. Don’t forget your small-business customers.

As retail consumers increasingly adopt digital channels, the mix of small-business and commercial customers in the branch will increase. What are you doing to cater to these highly coveted and profitable customers? Are you providing them a dedicated space? A separate entrance? Are you assisting them in promoting their businesses? Many institutions are left with relatively large branches that no longer align with their transaction volumes or the brand image they wish to communicate. I’m sure many of these locations have a sizeable small-business or commercial customer base. Why not create a “business center” for these valuable customers? Provide them with free Wi-Fi, coffee, a printer or a conference room. These actions may not drive sales immediately, but they will surely go a long way to improving the overall experience. And you may have the space already.

7. Stop cross-selling. Build relationships instead.

Let’s call it: cross-selling does not work. It is extremely difficult to reach consumers exactly when they are looking for a new product and happen to be in the branch. A more effective approach is to build a deep, lasting relationship with consumers by asking about their financial needs and challenges, all while delivering an exceptional branch experience. I have been to an institution that has migrated to a fully automated bank branch. All they have inside are ATMs. They also have ATMs in the drive-through, yet consumers still come into the branch all the time. Why? Because they like and value the branch staff and look to them for financial advice when they need it. Would it surprise you to know that these “teller-less” branches outperform their traditional branches by hundreds of percent?

All of this is not to suggest that institutions should not be considering more overarching changes to their overall branch networks. You likely should be. However, change of that magnitude takes time and patience. Starting with some easier-to-achieve and tangible changes will not only provide you great insights into what works (and what doesn’t) for your institution, but it will also provide you with some real results that you can measure and share with decision-makers within your organization. It will be those results, coupled with the lessons learned, that should give you the knowledge and confidence to continue your transformation journey.


Raja Bose is the vice president for branch transformation and advisory services at Diebold, Inc., where he helps financial institutions identify solutions to drive branch efficiency, mitigate risks, improve the customer experience and improve sales effectiveness. For more information, go to

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