Article published in Forbes magazine.
What will the branch of tomorrow look like? Without claiming to offer a turnkey solution (that would be great, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist), I am sharing twelve convictions that can help shape the content, and therefore the form, of this rather special service space. I will develop them in two stages. Six convictions are therefore presented below.
Square metres are expensive, so the density of services offered per square metre is an obvious lever. Offering new services in the branch makes sense, but opting for “automated” services that do not require (too much) of the team. Offering, in this 24/7 secure environment, a collection point for online purchases makes sense, as this offer takes advantage of our need for reassurance (being under video surveillance).
But it implies a new posture on the part of the teams, that of the “local retailer”. Because failures or first steps (or, more generally, the need for assistance from certain customers) will necessarily challenge the team in place, requiring it to be available. This ‘service’ posture, although worked on for more than a decade by all the brands, is far from being self-evident – we will come back to this throughout this contribution.
Firstly, because the ‘back office’ will increasingly come into contact with the client, and this will disrupt concentration. Some concepts have positioned offices on the front line, with glass doors inviting customers to approach the advisors. But the advisors may be in a meeting, on video, working on a file… in short, carrying out tasks that require a certain degree of concentration – and therefore a minimum of interruption.
This means that the boundary must be clear, both for the clients and for the team: on the one hand, dare to ask for help; on the other, be totally available, because you are dedicated (or partly dedicated) to a front-line mission. Beyond the spatial arrangement, the posture must be clear to both parties in the service relationship: the customer must know that he or she can “dare” to ask for help from the person who clearly shows a form of availability in the space.
But this greater porosity also reflects a more open character, towards others and the world, which will be discussed below in relation to conviviality, and then to societal issues.
In the field of commercial real estate, a great deal of importance is now attached to the question of ‘going back to the office’ and the meaning that this can have. A high degree of sociability seems to be a matter of course: meeting up with colleagues and managers, being able to celebrate a personal or professional event, or simply sharing a coffee or lunch break. In agencies, despite the noticeable efforts of the brands, it must be acknowledged that the presence of a coffee machine is not enough to create a ‘feeling’ of conviviality.
The agency remains a cold, silent space with a hushed atmosphere. Relationships between clients are not encouraged (and valued), over a coffee or in a waiting area, as everyone considers that the ‘meeting with the banker’ is by definition not conducive to conviviality: the image of the confessional comes to mind, when negotiating agios is similar to negotiating indulgences…
In short, here too, a conviviality area will make sense if a “climate” is fostered, supported by the team, in order to encourage a different attitude. The bank, like the hospital, is a place where we go ‘for better or for worse’: to start a new project that is close to our hearts, or to manage the situation of a joint account in the event of a divorce… For all that, in all cases the atmosphere can be lighter than it is today, the seriousness of the profession no longer implying, in 2023, a posture of Victorian uprightness, of modest restraint or of compassive faces.
In 2023, climate issues and the lasting effects of a global pandemic can no longer be considered exogenous: the agency will therefore be more societal, in the sense that it will be more obviously porous, open and ‘sensitive’ to major societal issues. It will communicate on the company’s commitments, but above all on the actions it has implemented, both globally and locally, as close as possible to its customers.
Its interior design will reflect strong choices, from up-cycling (furniture made up of recycled elements that have had another life before being transformed) to reuse. And then, up-cycled furniture has a style, colours, a difference, a design that can attract the eye, sympathy, and provoke exchanges between the advisor (or the receptionist) and a client. Being able to move the usual conversation to another register, to show curiosity and concern, to tell the story in an appropriate way to the customer (“indeed, this is a piece of furniture with a story, I’ll tell it to you…”), is part of the conviviality that has been mentioned, it creates the conditions for a more relational agency.
Finally, the social aspect, which is also an anchoring, a memory, will be embodied in a stronger proximity with the local/regional customers of the branch: the Crédit Agricole Alsace-Vosges thus promotes its history, which was played out alongside the Alsatian winegrowers. Simple photos, in the branch or on the walls of automatic machines, make visible a trajectory, roots, women and men who have contributed to this history, far from the cold and disembodied image of so many branches.
Symmetry of attention, care ethics, benevolent management… Many approaches highlight the importance of ‘taking care’: taking care of our teams, taking care of our clients, taking care of our ecosystems. The branch will therefore be more attentive, in its ability to highlight its teams, their professions, but also the bank’s ecosystem – its partners, its ‘exemplary’ clients, etc. (here we come back to what was said above on the societal issue).
The branch will be the receptacle of a neighbourhood (or village) life in which it must play a pivotal role: publishing classified ads, dedicating a small space to the initiatives of its clients and partners, etc. It will be increasingly attentive to its immediate and distant environment. Valuing, recognising and considering are three essential verbs that should help to compose the agency’s ‘décor’ as well as the team’s posture.
The agency will open up to the street, to the public square, to its neighbourhood, on the occasion of a particular operation (reaching out to students before the start of the university year, for example): the pop-up agency ‘outside the walls’ will develop, to create the unexpected, to become more firmly rooted in its neighbourhood, to promote its offers but also to enhance its professions, and to brand its employer. Here again, welcoming clients, prospects and/or candidates in June, under a parasol, to discuss future projects, is to create an unusual experience. In this sense, the agency will be more proactive, less passive in the way it welcomes people: by being more open, more welcoming and, ultimately, more accessible, it will make people want to get closer, to start a conversation. Here again, the posture adopted by the team will not be insignificant.