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Design, Bank, Build, Credit Union, Digital, Brand Strategy, Financial Instutition

Trends in Modern Branch Design [for Banks & Credit Unions]

Marc Healy, executive director of retail and marketing
6 min read
Animated silhouettes of people walking around a bank lobby.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Despite the growing popularity of mobile banking, the physical branch is still an intrinsic part of the consumer’s retail banking experience. Most people prefer to visit a branch to open accounts or perform complicated financial transactions. As a result, the in-branch experience is evolving into a more consultative — that is, less transactional — space.

Credit union and bank interior design trends are reflecting this shift with more open-concept floor plans, comfortable gathering spaces, and attractive wayfinding signage that mimics intuitive navigation and doubles as design elements. Let’s take a look at some of the trends highlighting human connection in the retail banking space.

The Value of the Physical Branch
Addressing Customer Needs Through Design
The Importance of Multi-Functional Spaces
Smaller Locations Are Making a Comeback
Incorporating Digital Elements is Crucial
What Next?

The Value of the Physical Branch

No matter how easy your mobile app is to use, face-to-face interaction is still the best way to build relationships with your customers or members. Physical branch locations provide a valuable touchpoint along the customer journey, whether they are opening a new account or signing their first mortgage. In-person experiences also give tellers an opportunity to build authentic relationships with customers and members, which is a primary factor in maintaining customer loyalty.

By creating a physical space that maximizes these authentic interactions, you incentivize customers and members to visit your branch when they need expert advice. And, as we’ll discuss, incorporating non-financial elements into your branch will increase the value of your brand in your customers’ eyes.

Addressing Customer Needs Through Design

“Sales” can sometimes get a bad rap these days — fewer people are interested in hearing sales pitches, especially when they can find all the information they need elsewhere. Likewise, fewer customers are swayed by sales pitch alone. Other customers’ reviews or experiences (i.e. social proof) are a major influence on buying habits, as is the allure of the retail “experience.” As a result, creating the ultimate holistic customer experience has become a sales strategy in itself.

If a retailer offers an in-person experience that’s memorable enough, customers will make the effort to visit their brick-and-mortar locations. Therefore, it’s important that retail banks and credit unions tailor their physical spaces to prioritize ease, comfort, customer or member agency, and uniqueness.

Design elements that improve the customer experience include:

  • Intuitive and attractive wayfinding signage that echoes the way someone might move naturally through a space.
  • Multipanel video walls that immerse the viewer in your brand while informing, educating, and/or entertaining.
  • Digital signage that turns your walls into a dynamic extension of your marketing strategy.
  • Signature design elements that help create a consistent and unique aesthetic identity for your brand.
  • Self-serve tools — like kiosks, iPads, and ITMs — that hand customers and members the reins.

Incorporating these pieces into your space does not require massive square footage. In-store locations, satellite kiosks, and partial renovations can benefit from the right mix of well-placed (and functional) design elements.

The Importance of Multi-Functional Spaces

Open concept floor plans aren’t just hot in home design. Banks and credit unions are increasingly updating their spaces to be airy, comfortable, and fluid, complete with design touches intended to make their visitors feel at home.

Community rooms: Most bank and credit union branches need conference rooms, both for internal and customer-facing meetings. But optimizing these spaces to meet even more needs will make your physical space that much more useful for customers and members. With a mix of formal and casual furnishings, you can turn a plain conference room into a comfortable waiting area, a flexible classroom, a children’s corner, an event space, and more.

Coffee bars: Coffee has been a staple of business for centuries; today, there’s hardly a hotel lobby or vehicle showroom without at least one steaming carafe or single-serve coffee maker. Some banks and credit unions are able to install fully staffed cafés into their branches, while others simply provide a well-stocked self-serve station. Either way, serving coffee on the premises communicates that you want your visitors happy, caffeinated, and ready to seize the day.

Coworking stations: A relatively new phenomenon, the coworking space has become a “third place” of sorts. Neither home nor formal workplace, the third place is somewhere in between, where people are free to meet, converse, relax, and work (together or alone). With the addition of cafés and community rooms, some banks and credit unions are embracing the coworking movement and providing a casual office-away-from-the-office with free WiFi and laptop charging stations — no financial transactions required.

Creating a community feel

While some banks and credit unions certainly stretch the definition of a multi-functional community space, customers and members respond well when financial institutions incorporate homey elements.

Plants: This seems like a simple addition, but living greenery can elevate a space from sterile to welcoming with minimal effort. There’s no shortage of low-maintenance plants out there that pack a visual punch and can even spark conversation from avid plant-loving visitors. Better yet, invite a local school or youth group to install a sustainable indoor garden as a community-building project.

Open lighting: Anyone who’s ever worked for long periods under fluorescent lights knows that it’s not the most relaxing experience. A space that’s too dimly lit doesn’t set the mind at ease either. Natural light is the best way to brighten up your space; if you don’t have access to many windows or skylights, any warm, diffused light will have a more pleasant effect than buzzing fluorescent tubes.

Local touches: A financial institution that stands apart from its local community can feel impersonal and aloof. When your interiors feature local artists’ work, design elements that reflect the surrounding landscape, or digital content feeds that pull in local events calendars or business ads, visitors can really feel that their bank or credit union is a true neighborhood staple.

Smaller Locations Are Making a Comeback

Slower foot traffic in recent years has caused some financial institutions to close branches or reduce their footprint. But downsizing your space does not mean downsizing your reach; if anything, smaller branches allow you to reach even more people while keeping costs down. Smaller locations provide:

  • More opportunities for customers and members to self-service
  • Increased opportunity to reach new markets
  • Extended business hours with 24/7 kiosks
  • Expanded customer reach through virtual teller platforms

More banks and credit unions are cutting costs by downsizing while maintaining top-notch customer service. While this means fewer tellers at each branch location, those that remain can be cross-trained to provide more comprehensive financial services. These “universal tellers,” though smaller in number, deliver more value to both the financial institution and the customer.

The most skilled tellers can even serve customers and members in multiple branch locations without leaving their office. Virtual teller-enabled kiosks allow customers to access expert service from anywhere — even a 1,000-square-foot standalone satellite branch.

Incorporating Digital Elements is Crucial

Nearly every bank or credit union has an app these days, but digital solutions should not be limited to remote banking. In-branch digital elements can include:

Leveraging digital tools like these can help you optimize your customers’ time spent in-branch. Self-service options give customers freedom and agency, while digital signage can provide important information and reiterate your institution’s digital connectivity.

What Next?

With all of these exciting trends in mind, it’s important to remember that no changes should be made in a vacuum. What your customers or members think, want, don’t want, and feel about your institution should be the inspiration for any design updates, more so than color swatches or lookbooks.

Send your customers a survey via email (or provide a QR code via digital sign) asking them how your current physical and digital spaces meet their needs, what they like or don’t like about them, and what changes they would like to see. Frame the questions to be about the overall customer experience — not just about whether they like your lobby furniture — and use their answers to inform any potential design updates. If you find that your overall brand persona isn’t serving your current customers, consider a thoughtful rebrand.

When you’re looking to update or reinvent your physical space, it’s important to partner with a design firm that specializes in your industry. At Element, our team includes designers, architects, project managers, and more who share a passion for transforming the traditional, outdated financial retail space into an engaging, dynamic, and future-facing experience.

We regularly find great design inspiration by looking outside the retail banking industry, keeping our eyes open for particularly innovative examples of user experience design. Have you seen any trends out there that catch your eye? Send us a note today, and let’s start brainstorming.

Marc Healy
executive director of retail and marketing

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