Thought Piece: Holistic Banking 17th January 2020

By Jon Blakeney, Group Managing Director at I-AM 


An overemphasis on product sales has led the world of retail banking to a position where it is missing a huge opportunity to enrich its customer lives through relevant, useful and inspiring branch-based experiences. Individual bank branches have a chance to specifically focus on the needs of local communities and transform themselves from transaction centres into places for shared learning, collaborating, working, celebrating and even exercising. This focus on how finance can impact the customer could potentially put banks back at the centre of people’s lives with an emphasis on mind, body and soul.

Samsung KX_Screenmax-wide-Hero-1-1176x440

Source Image: KINGS CROSS, KX 

The ever-changing retail environment is seeing a significant shift from product-based stores to immersive, brand building experiences. This is visible all over the world but one of the latest and best examples can be seen at Samsung KX. This recently opened 200 square metre space offers guests a range of experiences, events and skill-sharing workshops curated in partnership with several local community groups including Central St Martin’s University. Visitors can’t actually purchase products in store as there aren’t any tills or price tags on any of the products. Instead, Samsung introduces a one of a kind brand experience. The whole premise of Samsung KX is about people’s lives and showing how technology can enrich real life activities rather than compete with them, a truly holistic approach.

The reasons the big brands are revising their retail strategies are obvious; consumers are increasingly browsing and buying online, resulting in lower high street footfall and reduced sales. Faced with this reality brands have two choices – either reduce costs, shut stores and concentrate on digital or embrace the change and revise the role of physical spaces. The context to this decision making is that digital brands with a physical presence grow eight times more quickly, so the use of spaces are an important ingredient within the mix. Amazon’s push into physical retail spaces is precisely because they appreciate that the future sweet spot is a blend between physical and digital; where all touchpoints support each other and understand what role they play.


Source Image: AMAZON  4 Star Shop


Direct parallels can be drawn between these issues faced by retailers and those confronted by high street banks. Bank customers are shifting to a digital first mindset however they still have a huge desire for physical experiences, and this will never change. Humans just love to spend time with each other. Faced with this reality, banks just like retailers have two clear choices to be made. Firstly, they can follow the mantra preached by most management consultancies and use digital to reduce branch costs by reducing staff numbers and branch sizes. This approach is great at cost reduction however it fails almost every other measurement of success. The counter point to this direction is to redefine the role of physical spaces and fully understand how they can best support a digital first relationship.

When branch visits are no longer need based their success requires a radical shift in thinking. The redefined role for these physical spaces would see inspirational spaces that improve people’s lives through shared learning and collaboration. To adopt this position, banks would need to move dramatically from a product lead focus to one where they would sit confidently at the heart of their customer’s lives. The great strength that financial brands have is that money pervades almost every aspect of someone’s life, therefore a confident approach to money can achieve life changing results. To convert to this position, it’s not sufficient to purely adopt life-event based product selling techniques. What’s needed is a full appreciation of all aspects of a consumer’s lifestyle. By understanding someone’s broader life and goals, you can help to support them more effectively and better cater to their needs. There is definitely a vacuum within society that banks could step into. People continue to search for trusted advisers who can help them navigate life’s many challenges; this opportunity has arisen due to poor political leadership and the fragmentation of traditional communities. Considering this reality, banks have a chance to put themselves back where they used to be 100 years ago; at the very centre of local communities.

For financial institutions that feel confident to engage on a broader level, the opportunities are enormous, however this position needs to be delivered with commitment. The key is to value the interconnection of all aspects of people’s lives and the impact that one part can have on another. At I-AM we call this MIND, BODY & SOUL and we see no reason why banks can’t take an all-inclusive approach that includes all three.


For anybody to feel confident with money they need to feel in control of their lives. Money worries are one of the primary contributors to mental stress and if left unchecked can lead to physical illness. Hence the relationship between mental and physical wellbeing is crucial to success. Banks have a chance to lead the way in addressing mental wellness and stress caused by money issues. This is not a subject to be brushed under the carpet but in fact faced head on. Seminars focussing on how to handle stress, one-to-one sessions dealing with real life issues or talks from experts can all help create an environment where discussing mental wellness is OK.

Sofi Money

SoFi Campaign Aims To Destigmatize Debt and Financial Insecurity In Powerful “Money Talks” Video

Once any negative aspects of mind have been addressed there is also a great opportunity to help people get ahead in their lives by enriching their knowledge. Great education and information are key accelerators that can help people achieve their goals and banks can support in delivering this knowledge. Whether it’s TED Talks, free pod casts from business experts or seminars by local entrepreneurs, bank branches can reclaim their status at the centre of the community by becoming custodians of social learning. These dynamic learning initiatives can help remove the stress from day to day life and bring greater financial confidence to customers. A natural extension of this position would also allow banks to help satisfy the increasing demand for co-working spaces. Why have your audiences been spending their time working at Starbucks or WeWork, when they could be engaging with your brand and meeting like-minded people in your spaces? By taking on these opportunities, we could gradually see these spaces start to take on a faster pace, with more energy and increased daily footfall.


Left Image: Starbucks Reserve Experience, Shanghai Roastery

At first glance the idea of banks engaging with wellness programmes and physical fitness seems ridiculous, however it’s not as mad as some might think. The relationship between mind and body is intrinsic to wellbeing. Banks can choose to merge these two features into one seamless experience that capitalises on the demand for fitness classes and exercise before or after work. From early morning yoga classes, quick spinning sessions at lunchtime or a workout in the evening. By creating environments that offer such facilities, banks can far better serve their local communities and provide services that have significance to people. The meeting of mind and body also delivers openings for talks on nutrition, cooking demonstrations or healthy eating seminars. The addition of these activities to a branch can turn under-used increasingly irrelevant spaces into a vibrant hub within the community.


Source Image: B WORKS, YOGA  Manchester

Money matters still scare large parts of the population, the jargon, the fees, the regulations and the formality combine to create significant stress. Just talking about money is often difficult for many people – how much do they earn, how much can they borrow and how much do they owe? These are the stress points of today’s millennials. Again, banks have a fundamental role to play in taking the stress out of banking and making people feel in-control about money. Helping people regain power over their finances and move to a place where they feel confident and more relaxed. Banks already have many of the tools to deliver the rational aspects of this approach, conversely what’s missing are the more emotional aspects. That is why it is important to integrate emotional touchpoints through initiatives that can range from hosting local team events, awards ceremonies or even dance classes, again putting themselves at the centre of local life in an honest, relevant way.


B WORKS, Learn Work Bank Designed By I-AM

In my opinion, the next five years will see a clear diversification of retail bank branch design. Many will follow the path of cost and footprint reduction through great technology. Some will also explore the potential for these more inspirational, immersive experiences and a few with real foresight will intelligently blend the best of both. Gone will be the teller counters, the queues and the 24-hour lobbies, to be replaced by stimulating, digitally enabled, immersive experiences valued by the whole community, a truly holistic bank experience that will advance your mind, improve your body and feed your soul.


Interested in more banking and finance opinion pieces and trends? Check out some of our other articles below:

Mergers & Acquisitions: Who is thinking of the customer? By Henry Van Belle

Takeouts from our Efma Innovation Summit presentation

“Moments of Change”, Our Finance White Paper, exploring some key financial trends affect retail banking, Download here


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