What She Didn’t Say

By Sue Dowd

I was honored to be interviewed on a podcast last month by Terry Badger from the financial services industry think tank, @BAI_Info (BAI Banking Strategies). Besides suddenly being recast as a “cool mom” in my household, it was not lost on me that this had promise to catapult me into social media stardom.

We discussed how banks are implementing safety measures at their branches and how they might rethink their branch spaces in the future. In my pre-podcast jitters, I was concerned I wouldn’t have much to say. My colleagues would find this highly amusing, as I never seem to be short on opinions or at a loss for words.

The interview itself went relatively smoothly and, of course, I ended up having plenty to say. So much so that in the days and weeks since the interview, a million more things have come to mind that I could have said.

Here’s the big one that’s been weighing on me.

I don’t consider myself a futurist, but the question is just dangling out there waiting for an answer: What does the post-pandemic future hold for brick-and-mortar bank branches? Will they be needed? Will they finally die on the vine, becoming obsolete?

When I look into the post-COVID-19 proverbial crystal ball, here’s what I see. Consumers will be flocking to:

  1. The dentist
  2. Their local bar
  3. Homes of friends and family
  4. A favorite greasy spoon
  5. School, on a regular basis
  6. Sporting events
  7. Vacation destinations
  8. Entertainment venues (outdoors at first)
  9. The gym
  10. Yes, even the shopping mall

Take note, a trip to the bank did not make the list (of course, neither did cruise ships — I’m on the fence on that one).

Sure, I would anticipate a nominal uptick in visits by customers who have been holding off on plans to switch banks, want to pursue a personal loan or might like to start investing. But the need for regular trips to the bank has been rendered non-essential, as the pandemic shifted the widespread adoption of digital banking channels into overdrive while also putting into question the need to always have cash in hand.

So what does this mean for the viability of the brick-and-mortar branch? Even as some banks venture into new regional markets, fewer branches will be necessary overall. So branch consolidation and closures are imminent.

It also means that intense focus needs to be placed on the branches that do remain open. The now-rare face-to-face is an opportunity to build a relationship, and every square inch of the branch interior needs to support that precious interaction with the customer. Don’t blow the opportunity to create a meaningful connection between the customer and your brand. Know why your customer or prospect is walking through the doors and be ready to accommodate their every need with smart, friendly faces, appropriate amenities and an experience that is a seamless extension of your digital offering.

Just as much attention should be paid to the exterior. We’ve always advocated that your branch is your billboard. With fewer branches in the network to take care of, make sure the exteriors are working hard to project your brand. These truly can be considered Super Bowl ads, in and of themselves.

And don’t worry if your exterior efforts don’t bring more foot traffic through those branch doors — the bigger picture is far more important. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to create an impression possibly leading to customer acquisition, through their channel of choice.

Sue, a longtime retail strategist, uses her deep experience with financial institutions and retail environments to help her banking clients express their brands in their physical spaces, considering the customer experience at every touchpoint.