Those of you who are old enough to remember Blake’s 7, or Space 1999 will remember the terribly designed sets, with shiny surfaces and lots of gloss white paint. In the 1980’s, these TV shows were iconic, setting the picture for the way we saw the world of the future. Needless to say, the producers got almost everything wrong. Now we are in the 'future', we don’t walk around in shiny suits, or ‘just add water’ to a powder for our food, neither do we live the kind of intergalactic lives that were portrayed. Why am I mentioning this? I am wondering so many have not learnt lessons from history and we are still ‘hell bent’ on looking at the future as a shiny white, tech filled, unfriendly place.
In the last month, I have been in Uganda, Kenya and Pakistan. Pakistan has a population of around 200million people, the majority of whom are only just understanding what it means to have a bank account. It is a place where the normal rules of branding do not apply to the masses, where brands die because they ‘look too good’ and where, for most, brand experience is lost in the noise and chaos of everyday life - the fight to survive... and possibly more importantly for banks, markets like this are seen as 'growth markets'.
I am left wondering what relevance does a ‘Branch of the Future’ have in a growth market like this? It is the same in other markets I visit too where it is all too common to see empty, tech filled bank branches that are impersonal and irrelevant to customer needs. The simple answer is that a branch of the future is very relevant - if it is done correctly.
Those of you who have been in one of my presentations will remember the story I tell about a bank in the Middle East who spent $8m on a 'branch of the future'. The design is gorgeous, brimming with tech, a shiny white temple of curves and expensive stuff. Yet, once the dignitaries had left after the branch swung open it’s doors, no customers came for six months. Why? When the manager eventually got out on the street and asked this simple question to customers, they said two things:
We don’t feel like we belong in there
We look at that (the branch), and wonder how much of our money you spent on it
Needless to say, the branch was demolished and an simpler, less extravagant, more relevant model was put in its place. An $8m lesson learned.
It’s very true that Banks want us to use technology more and more in their drive for greater profitability. They want to create an aura around their brands that tell customers ‘we understand the future and it’s all shiny and white’, but just like the producers of Blake’s 7 or Space 1999, they are wrong. The future is not like this at all. The future is a place of convenience, where the emphasis on providing customers with the help and assistance they really need, in a non-threatening environment helps make their lives easier... and probably more importantly, it is a place that is relevant to the community the bank serves.
There is a bank in Indonesia that has taken this mantra by the scruff of the neck and is really delivering to its promises. Bank BTPN (@sahabatbtpn), are a fast growing bank who have built their reputation on being part of the communities they serve. They help customers personally - by speaking to them - explaining how banks work, how the banking message should be about creating prosperity and not dependency, and how by using technology the bank can offer convenience to their customers... and it is working. The bank has moved from a transactional institution, to a service provider and enabler.
Isn’t this what the branch of the future should be all about? Should there not be an emphasis on relevance, meaningful and personal service that is facilitated by the convenience of technology in a tactile space, and not a transaction driven model that is driven by technology and all shiny white?
If your bank is considering a branch of the future, please ask yourselves:
Who is going to use this space?
Why will they want to use it?
What can we do to make the environment non-threatening, appropriate, personal and relevant to every customer?
Ask yourselves if the Blake’s 7 approach will work in your market. I will be very surprised if the answer is yes.