The facade of a BNP Paribas bank branch in central Paris, yesterday.
VELIZY, France: Installation art, interactive walls and a robot doorman; the flagship branches of the world’s top banks have come a long way from the iron grilles and potted plants of old.
To compete against online-only rivals and to attract a new generation of customers to branches, banks are installing sleek interiors and hi-tech gadgetry.
ATMs that read fingerprints, touch-screen desks to flick through your finances and videoconference units for expert advice are all on display at payments-technology firm Wincor Nixdorf’s showroom in the Paris suburb of Velizy.
“Banks are investing a lot in their retail branches,” said Steve Bousabata, head of Wincor’s French banking services arm. “They want customers to come back.”
The reason is clear: after years of relying on branches to drive retail revenue, European banks expect such networks to supply only 62 percent of sales by 2020 from today’s average of 81 percent, according to Equinox Consulting.
Banks, especially those still nursing losses from the financial crisis, are under pressure to cut costs and are balancing the need to pare back branch networks by sprucing up select outlets.
But branches are still the first point of contact for many customers and are still the primary location for product sales like mortgages, new accounts and insurance, underlining the importance of upgrading them for a more tech-savvy generation.
The difficulty is knowing exactly what belongs in the branch of the future and what is better left behind.
“Are all the things we see in branches today going to be seen in branches tomorrow? I very much doubt that,” said Mike Baxter, head of management consultancy Bain’s Americas Financial Services practice.
“There’s an awful lot of experimentation of stuff that turns out to be unsuccessful and uneconomic.”
Flashy “bank of the future” branches mixing gadgetry with design similar to Apple’s minimalist stores have been opened by BNP Paribas in Paris, Barclays in London and Deutsche Bank in Berlin - at an estimated cost of ¤5m ($7m) each. They include lounge areas, giant interactive screens and other trimmings such as handbags for sale and pieces of art. Gauging their success is tricky. BNP was willing to give data on its refurbished flagship branch near the Paris Opera - which three years ago was fitted with a wall covered in plants, iPads for customer use and a touch-screen desk - saying that footfall was up 40 percent and new clients up 25 percent.
Italy’s Unicredit also said that footfall and new business were up at its newly revamped flagship branch in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, which offers “welcoming scents” and a touch-screen wall. Visits are up by an average of 60 percent while loans and deposits have doubled, a spokeswoman said. Reuters