How Service Retail Will Rescue Branch Banking

Successful branch transformation relies on human experiences that bring significance and satisfaction to the customer’s in-branch journey

How Service Retail Will Rescue Branch Banking

In The Race for In-Person Experiences, we addressed why foot traffic still makes a difference in both retail and banking, even with digital disruption pushing routine transactions and purchases to mobile and online.

In banking, the efficiency and expediency of digital solutions can often obscure the vital role of the in-branch experience. After all, it’s easier to build an app than it is to overhaul a network of physical spaces and completely rethink their form and function going forward. To complicate matters further, the prevalence of mergers and acquisitions makes the situation even more urgent.

The pace of M&A in banking is steadily on the rise with 2017 seeing 302 mergers, up from 296 in 2016. But one development should put even more gas in the merger and acquisition engine: deregulation. In our Top-5 Lessons Learned with Mergers and Acquisitions, Sean Keathley, President of Adrenaline, says “We are starting to see some of the one-size-fits all requirements that came out of the financial collapse change.” And that’s opening the door to more consolidation. As many institutions seek growth in new markets through M&A, the need to optimize their branch network becomes mission critical.

Branch Behavior

From a retail branch perspective, it’s certainly true that foot traffic is on the decline with in-branch visits set to drop 36% through 2022. At the same time, mobile use is skyrocketing with transactions expected to double by 2020. Given those statistics, it would be understandable for banks to massively shift focus and resources into mobile and starve the branch. But they would be missing a big opportunity if they do. In fact, Novantas found a full 60% of consumers prefer the branch to mobile, online or phone for opening accounts. But is that because there are not enough digital options available?

Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline, says, “People will automate the second they can. The reality is that people are more starved for time than they are for money or anything else for that matter. What consumers are looking for is banking tailored around their lives.” While data may show consumers want to go into the branch to open an account, are banks providing enough robust options for account opening, not just pushing consumers to the branch channel to facilitate those accounts? Sure, that’s one way to justify the branch’s existence. But it’s not a good one. 

Service First

So, if it’s not primarily for opening accounts what should the branch channel be doing? What we’re seeing in the branch network trenches is retail banks really assessing the consumer behaviors taking place within their branches and marrying resulting consumer expectations to a bank’s North Star – an always-iterating ideal embodiment of the branch experience at any given time. While what happens at the branch level will understandably shift, change and modify over time, optimizing branch networks toward providing a unique, brand-aligned service represents the future of branch banking. 

In banking, we’ve all come to understand that the highest-value interactions with bank consumers take place in-branch, but what banks have tended toward is focusing on how the bank can exploit that visit for maximum profit. Super-savvy consumers know if you’re upselling them or manufacturing an in-person consumer experience solely with the eye towards increasing sales of products. What consumers want is a unique, valuable service-set, not just a re-pitch of products. Human interaction driven consultation is one of those services that can help retail banking elevate in-branch visits.

According to Gina Bleedorn, “I see consumer retail activity – and that includes banking – in one of two ways. The first is things consumers have to do, like transactions. They will want to do those digitally or virtually, so it’s as easy and efficient as possible. Where there is the most opportunity for bank branches is in the second category. These are things that consumers want to do and have to be in-person to experience. It’s what we’re calling service retail. The retail banks and brands with physical locations that survive in the future will be in the business of providing valuable services and meaningful experiences.” 

Our next installment on the evolution of retail and banking, we will address how brands are responding to call for in-person experiences. For more information, contact us at

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