If the technology had existed in 1905 surely master architect Frank Lloyd Wright would have created a mobile app for the landmark bank he designed in Dwight, Ill., as part of his signature organic effort to bring the outside indoors. A century later technology informs design, prodding banks to reinvent customer convenience in redesigned spaces reminiscent of Wright’s prairie-style living room lobby and meeting room with a Roman brick fireplace. On Main Street and, more frequently in new strip mall branches, anyone is welcome for fresh coffee, password-free Wi-Fi and, oh yes, financial products and services.
Whether it’s new or remodeled space, the design trend is to promote hospitality. So how does that look in regional community banks?
“There’s a lot more of a hospitality feel inside,” said Sean Raboin, partner with HTG Architects in Minneapolis. “It’s more free-flowing, living room-like. There are smaller waiting areas and more interaction space.”
Creating a free hangout space where customers can come and work with Wi-Fi that is not password protected is now almost a requirement. There may even be a charging station. HomeTown Bank in Shakopee, Minn., created specially designed tables and benches with tiers for holding laptop computers in its new 9,000-square-foot building project with HTG. Loan closings or financial discussions can happen at the tables, Raboin said. With a freestanding building in a high-traffic mall with a major grocer, the bank created convenience with opportunities to cross-sell services with office tenants: an accounting firm and an abstract company.
The hospitality design reflects a shift in bank employee roles to what Raboin likes to call a “universal banker.” More of a consultant with an outgoing personality, they are able to complete transactions, do small lending and check financials, leaving larger account-related projects to loan and other specialists. A concierge desk or pod station where an employee is sitting positioned with direct sightline of the customer entering the bank signals this new standard in customer service.
“The employee sees the customer, they know who they are, and immediately can stand and greet them by name and say, ‘Hello (Helen) what can I do for you today?’” Raboin said of the protocol.
Community Bank & Trust in Waterloo, Iowa, had some tongue-in-cheek fun in a Facebook video promoting the bank as “first in facial recognition.” The video shows a customer entering the lobby, approaching a teller and being greeted by name.
Working with local Kirk Gross Company, CBT has done several remodels of its bank, which is housed in a former utility company office. One project lopped off upper stories, paring the building down to two and working to create open interior spaces with contemporary-style glass mezzanines and furniture. Most recently, the main entrance was repositioned from facing busy commercial streets to focus on the parking lot. The teller line was repositioned for direct sightline to customers.
In an effort to create a welcoming space, teller lines are a key conversation in the construction design phase, said Adam Holmes, president of Vanman Architects and Builders in Minneapolis. “Not only will they be smaller, and lower height, but will you have one at all?”