Brick And Mortar Is Back In Style

Follow these three golden rules to make physical branches a worthwhile destination for members.

Aaron Pugh


Online channels may have brought financial services into the 21st century, but despite their potential to increase member convenience and efficiency, the physical branch is still where much of a credit union’s business takes place.

Where is the branching model headed? “Two big acquisitions in America point in opposite directions yet both deals make sense,” says The Economist, citing Capital One’s purchase of ING Direct (an online-only institution) and PNC’s purchase of physical branches from Royal Bank of Canada. “The industry’s future lies in multiple distribution channels, not just one.”

The physical branch concept is far from fixed, and with the right vision it can continue to develop and grow along with developments in online channels. As the modern branch continues to expand in form and style, it also must continue to develop in functionality. Lofty new retail concepts have emerged across many industries, but they may seem too impractical for a community financial institution to implement.  

Credit unions face efficiency pressures and member value concerns that for-profit institutions do not, but they can enact some core lessons from even the most extravagant modern retail design principles in cost effective ways.

Be Defined
Being efficient doesn’t require being dull, and you needn’t to restrict yourself to four white walls, a TV, and a teller line.  At its worst, a bare bones branch design can create a here today, gone tomorrow impression for visitors.

The look of your branch communicates your values and intentions, so whether it's environmental responsibility, precision and transparency (glass isn’t just for windows), or long-term stability (think hardwood and stone), investing in the details of your physical space goes a long way in solidifying the brand.

Be Flexible
Untraditional branching options allow you to be where the people are (at schools, in stores, etc.) but branches should also be filled with details that demonstrate how the institution synchs with the culture of the community.

Technology rich markets like the Pacific Northwest will likely respond well to high-tech branches with features like interactive digital displays or demos, while multicultural markets may respond better to bilingual signage. Gen Y will likely be drawn to more dramatic branch designs and events that reflect a culture of customization and collaboration.

Not sure what branch features would resonate with your specific market? Go to the source, as DBS did with its crowd sourced branch design contest for a Gen Y marketplace in Singapore.

Be Different
For some cooperatives, it is worthwhile to invest a little more in something that makes your branches stand out from all other competitors in your marketplace. Tech investment like remote tellers or the adoption of an emerging technology like 3D ATMs is sure to generate a novel response and garner member attention.

But aware however, that even the best new experiences can eventually lose their flair for attracting members, so invest accordingly. For some, a significant branch investment can be as simple as providing a Keurig coffee machine and donuts in the lobby each morning. 


July 8, 2011


  • No matter how you dress it up, most consumers are simply not interested in spending time in a branch. Why would they? When most can perform 95%+ of their banking from their pc and, increasingly, on their phone.

    It is high time the industry stopped defending the 'sacred cow' and moved on to meeting consumers' needs.
    Serge Milman | OptiRate