Technology could evoke a Renaissance in Banking

Best Banking Austria, February 2015

Jon Blakeney is managing director of I-AM, an agency for design and brand communication. He has been working in the international banking sector and managed projects for UniCredit, Jordan Kuwait Bank, Ocean Bank in Vietnam, New India Bank and RBS. His expertise ranges from the banking industry to retail and restaurant design. Austrian Bank magazine “Best Banking” invited him for an interview in London.

Best Banking: In Austria you are famous for your work with Bank Austria. Tell us about it.

Blakeney: Based on our work for UniCredit in 2011 we gained a great amount of positive feedback. We had a brief for the CCR Region and our first project in Bulgaria got a lot of attention. These successes encouraged Bank of Austria to have a closer look at the Austrian market. A lot had to be done. We wanted to create a more modern appearance to meet expectations, especially of the X and Y generation. A drastic symbol of change had to be made. Smart banking was the leading idea and the new retail space had to manifest this idea. In order to do so we created four different branch formats. Besides the multi and omni-channel approach, we put great emphases on flexibility, creating a design that could cope with future needs and new developments.

Best banking: What has been new about these formats?

Blakeney: We made drastic modifications, as a revolutionary change was needed. Part of that was to restructure meeting rooms and create space for privacy. Customer and staff are closer together now, as we reduced barriers. The branch manager is positioned at the entrance of the space, similar to a head porter. Just as in premium restaurants the manager is greeting customers personally, making the first point of contact. That is the spirit we wanted to catch. Consultants do not have fix tables anymore, as we introduced the concept of “hot desking”. Neutral consultancy tables make it possible to meet clients at eyelevel, on impartial grounds. Something, we discovered, especially young customer find important.

Similar to the normal retail business the customer journey had to be reorganised. In supermarkets you will always find milk in the back of the store, leading the customer through the whole retail space, encouraging additional sales. Through these new courses of movement and other innovations in the branch, counter sales increased by around 30%, while necessary staff decreased by 30%. Sales of each staff member doubled.

Best banking: So banking becomes an emotional experience?

Blakeney: Banks are naturally a rather rational institution. They are well organised in numbers and facts, know about processes, etc. But customers are emotional beings, showing a variety of automatic behavioural patterns and instincts. We wanted to address these emotions before the experience becomes too rational, for example by addressing the senses through fragrances and music.

Best banking: What do you base your concepts on?

Concepts heavily depend on the respective national culture as well as the company itself- especially the management team. Is the management team innovative and welcomes change? Or is change synonymous with a dentist appointment. We worked on concepts for banks in India, Vietnam etc., and are used to look at different countries and market places to quickly understand the culture and traditional values behind them.

America still leads the world of banking today. That would be the same for the retail industry. Americans seem to have a natural instinct to create an outstanding retail experience. Turkey is and excellent example as well. England instead seems to be 10 years behind Turkey. I think, the development primarily depends on the people’s mind-set.

Best banking: What is especially challenging about your work?

Blakeney: The most important thing is to fully involve the team on the client side in the developing and designing process. Everyone has to be on board. It is very difficult to make progress with only part of the client team. Marketing, IT, Process Management, everyone has to be aligned with the project. The greatest ideas and best branch designs do not work if IT is slow, or staff is unwilling.

Best banking: What are your predictions for the future?

Blakeney: The future of banking will be digital. The industry’s environment is changing fast at the moment. 2001 people though the Internet will replace branches. Now, almost 13 years later, over half of the customers still chose the personal contact in a branch over online banking. I personally belief, that the smartphone will have an enormous impact on banking but branches will continue to be important as well. Banks have to take new directions while designing branches, as they will become more of a concept- and training centre. The classic counter will be gone over the next 5-10 years. We already experience that trend in retail. Transactions are made by service machines and staff is used to support and explain this machines. The new focus for staff will be the highly qualitative consultancy and guidance, as he need for a personal contact will continue.

A customer’s relationship to his bank is not romantic. It is more of a partnership of convenience. A necessity, more then a pleasure. Technology could form a banking renaissance. It could make it possible for a customer to meet the bank at level that suits his personal life, anytime and anywhere. Banks will be taking the role of supporters in the future, making it possible to live your life to your aspiration.

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