Industry Focus

Retail Financial Services


The changes in behavior of the modern shopper increase the likelihood that financial institutions will need to significantly transform to meet the needs of their customer. 


It may be developing more robust digital service channels to offer the customer more options, or migrating low-value services being delivered by high-value assets to lower cost-to-serve channels, or developing more comprehensive education and advisory programs to help customers manage their increasingly complex personal economies, or it may be rethinking your overall experiential platform to increase market impact and engagement with a more elusive and demanding audience. The pace of digital evolution and change today guarantees the chances of being exposed to new market and/or consumer forces that require your entire service and offering to go under review and likely to be revolutionized. 

In 2010 our team was part of a comprehensive reconsideration of the existing financial services condition within the US market. At this time the future of banking had been narrated by Brett King in his book Banking 2.0, and future living scenarios had been visualized by Microsoft and others through beautifully rendered films. In partnership with the technology leader NCR, and financial institution BECU, we embarked on conceiving the bank of the future as and how it would operate day-to-day. Our work was informed by extensive research in the changing dynamics of the consumer retail market, and by the next-generation technology being conceived by NCR and others. Through the project we realized the broad array of challenges facing the financial services environment, but it also provided a blueprint and road map for how to both respond to that change and be in advance of it.  

The Inevitability of Change

Before mobile banking, the biggest change in the banking environment was the introduction of the ATM in 1967. This technology is still the center of most change today. The point is that the bank is not an environment familiar to change and innovation, but it would be naive to think that is reason for not transforming your financial institution. The recent marketplace is littered with the carcasses of numerous examples of industries thought to have been out of the reach of change by digital and mobile advancements. Now more than ever the financial industry is experiencing an increasing competition from fintech startups, and while in the short term the established financial institutions have a seemingly comfortable moat around their business, we know this can not last.

Who would have thought a few years ago that the hotel industry would be competing with people renting-out their rooms, and that the taxi and car rental companies would be competing with people sharing or renting their cars. Branch transformation is not going to be the only answer to the future of financial institutions, but it is a critical first step in evolving the model to both survive and sustain. And to support the value of the physical branch in the new model, consider that this past year the online retailer, and biggest retailer in the world, Amazon, began opening new physical store concepts. The physical branch should not operate in ten years the same way it does today, but it also is not going away. It is transforming, and you can either lead, follow, or ignore that change. There will be those that lead, those that follow, and those that fall away. We work with those who want to lead.

The physical space is the stage for the activities of the branch, and while the size of the stage will fluctuate, there is a basic kit that should be unique for each organization aligned to the brand, the experience objectives, and experience strategy. 

Branches are reducing in size as traffic volumes decline, rent and the costs-to-serve increase, and low-value transactions migrate to alternative channels. This reduction requires a stronger focus on getting the basics right, and differentiating your experience from your competitors. Simply saying that advisory is important to you will not be reflected to the customer unless they experience a physical change in the way you serve them. Unfortunately the common response has been to redecorate and add a concierge desk. Even if you only plan to make adjustments to your current branch, you should have a clearly defined vision for your future branch conceived and designed per your business and experience objectives. Then you may break down the vision and implement aspects of the future branch as small adjustments to your existing branches. Working from a vision you will find that the adjustments with the most impact may not be architectural, or are partially architectural, meaning the implementation of a new element as the support for a new engagement choreography with the focus on the role and interaction between associate and customer. But sometimes big change is needed. One case is grabbing the attention of younger, more distracted and demanding audiences. For this consumer you will need to show commitment because they value experience and appreciate nuance.


Select FI Case Studies



Affinity FCU

Bank of Hawaii


Citizens Bank

First Commonwealth FCU


Mandiri Bank



Wells Fargo