retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

USA Today had an interesting piece about the future of the traditional bank branch, suggesting that the financial services industry is rethinking what has been a mainstay of Main Street America for more than a century.

“The new Citibank branch in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, around the corner from a Whole Foods and Roti Mediterranean Grill, looks more like an Internet café than a place you'd go to cash a check,” the paper writes. “There are no brochures — this is a green building, so unnecessary paper is discouraged. Bank employees use a wall-mounted computer screen to show customers different types of checking accounts and other bank products. Customers who need to wait for assistance can use one of the branch's computers to review their online accounts or log onto their own computers in the Wi-Fi lounge.

“The branch, similar to Citi's flagship branch in New York, is designed to create a friendly environment’ for tech-savvy people...”

Banks, USA Today writes, need to adjust for these tech-savvy consumers not just in the branches, but also online, where more and more people do their banking. But at the same time, there is a percentage of customers that want the high-touch experience of a branch - they want a friendly teller, and they want personalized accessibility. And they need to marry these different needs within the context of an industry that has its share of image problems. There’s also been a ton of consolidation, and questions remain about the whole issue of “too big to fail.”

It is a moving target, and you aren’t going to find a lot of sympathy for the banking industry. But the questions the banks are asking themselves are the same questions that many industries have to ask ... with their Eyes Open about the future.
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