How can a bank branch network rethink its approach
so that it moves closer to customer and community needs?
In the last decade, the way we conduct our daily lives has shifted dramatically onto the digital landscape. We do our work online, we shop and communicate with friends and family online. It has given us greater flexibility, speed and efficiency. But being able to do everything online also means that we cannot switch off from work, so we sometimes look at pictures of food instead of feeling it, and we sometimes stare at people’s lives through a digital screen rather than really seeing them.
The high street bank has never been an exciting place to go to. For children, there are queues and it is boring. For adults, it is much the same, except with the added worry of checking bank balances, organising mortgages, or taking out loans. And one could ask, with the vast majority of high street services, including banking, now available online, what need is there to go in person? It is tempting to operate our lives remotely, but this results in our removal from the local community and to a wider extent, society in general. In Glastonbury, for instance, the last bank closed its doors in March this year, despite protests from the town’s MP and locals. A lot of people still prefer to have a physical interaction and, on a wellbeing level, we do need to seek out connections with other people.
A Hybrid Approach
The current trend in ‘unique’ hybrid stores such as launderettes with libraries or clothes boutique-cafe-media centres, suggests that there is an increasing preference for a more local shopping and socialising experience. But while the convergence of complementary in one space might be marketed as a quirky and unique selling point, this kind of hybridisation is often practical in having multiple services that draw more customers in. So how does a bank begin to encourage their customers to return to the branches? How can a space that has typically only been dedicated to a single service become a destination that people actually want to go to? And what kind of impact would hybridisation have on the employees?
Hybrid Space Making is a research project in partnership with UniCredit, an Italian banking and financial services company that operates globally, and Unwired, a consultancy firm that runs a series of conferences on innovation, technology and the workplace titled WORKTECH.
Inspired by the increase in hybridised spaces (specifically within the retail, hospitality and other consumer services), the project seeks to develop an architectural and digital framework for Unicredit that will allow it to function as a destination for existing and potential customers as well as creating a better working environment for its employees.
Research for the project included an in-depth study tour looking at hybrid spaces in London and Milan, and now at the end of the first phase, researcher Andrew Thomson has developed a series of flexible spaces that can be deployed for a variety of situations and needs; identifying key elements of workspaces within the retail, hospitality and business sectors has allowed Andrew to reframe and present them as a ‘toolkit of parts’ to aid the converting and re-purposing of bank branches for hybrid uses.
The second phase considered the different user groups specific to Unicredit, including employees and customers, by engaging them in co-creation workshops in order to understand current patterns of work; spatial occupation and activity; workplace requirements of the staff the kind of services they would like the bank to include. Ultimately, this research, combined with workshops, will provide an insight into how Unicredit can adapt their physical and digital spaces to becoming a bank of the future.