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Designing banking locations for the digital age

Capital One Cafés are designed to take the stress out of people’s relationships with money and feature meeting rooms, nooks and lounge seating and a community space.

Matt Rowan Physical design manager, market destination team, consumer bank marketing, Capital One, Washington, D.C.

In the 10 years since the first smartphone was released, essentially enabling everyone to be connected to the internet all the time, the way we live, work, shop and manage our money has shifted drastically. As technology drives more of what we do on a daily basis, how we approach the design of commercial real estate spaces for traditional institutions like bank branches has reached a critical crossroads.

According to a 2016 Accenture survey on digital banking, 60 percent of consumers use online banking at least weekly. Some may interpret this as a declining need for physical bank locations as a whole, but it’s important to note that among those who said they use online banking at least weekly, 87 percent said they still crave a place to go with human interaction to complement their online experience. (xanax) This trend is not exclusive to banking, either – even as consumers increasingly shop online for everything from food to apparel, they still value an in-store experience where they can browse products and have their questions answered in real time.

It’s clear that what this new technology-savvy generation craves is a retail and service experience that lives at the intersection of the digital and physical worlds and is intentionally designed for how people live, shop and bank today.

So what does this mean for the physical banks of our parents’ generation as they now look to reinvent themselves for a new generation of technology obsessed customers? Simply put, they need to hit refresh, both on design and concept. According to Viacom’s Millennial Disruption Index, 71 percent of millennials said they would rather go to the dentist than go to their bank. Imagine if banks were places that customers wanted to go, rather than a place they had to go? Imagine a beautiful, state-of-the art café and community space where instead of talking to a banker behind a desk, you’re sitting on a sofa with an iPad and a cup of coffee, while an ambassador coaches you through setting up an account, paying your bills online, applying for a credit card and more.

My team was tasked with creating a physical concept that brought to life Capital One’s goal of taking the stress out of people’s relationships with money and helping them solve their money problems and meet their financial goals. We imagined a place with meeting rooms that anyone can use, comfortable nooks and lounge seating where people can relax, and a welcoming community space with a strong education component, where people can meet, get work done, learn about new products, and enjoy a great cup of coffee and a local pastry.

We partnered with architecture firm Rockwell Group to bring to life a relaxing and inviting space with lots of open areas that can double as workshop and event space, creative nooks and casual seating areas for visitors to have money conversations in a more relaxed setting than a traditional bank office, and digital screens that allow visitors to browse interactive content focused on financial education. In each café, we also incorporate local design elements, such as murals and photography from local artists. In our Denver and Boulder café locations, for example, we worked with Kelsey Montague.

Today, when a customer enters one of our Capital One Cafés, they are greeted by one of our café ambassadors, sporting apparel curated by former Project Runway contestant Shirin Askari and an Apple iWatch that allows them to order coffee for guests without having to pause the conversation. Café ambassadors are there to answer questions – not sell – and can talk to customers about their money habits, goals and action plans, or help them open and manage their accounts.

Guests also have the opportunity to check out the demo bar and challenge their financial knowledge through interactive screens that provide educational money content. Many café demo bars are equipped with Amazon Echos, where customers can test out the latest in voice assistant technology and learn how to use the Capital One skills with Alexa.

As the commercial retail industry continues to evolve, the spaces they occupy will need to evolve as well if they want to stay relevant. Providing great products and great customer service is essential, but it’s equally important to connect and engage with customers through your physical space by showing them, not just telling them, that you are an innovative and future-focused retail business that caters to the way people live and interact with your products now. The future of banking – and commercial real estate as a whole – is exciting, and new concepts like the Capital One Cafés are just the beginning.

Featured in CREJ’s August 2017 Retail Properties Quarterly.

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.