We have been involved in a couple of banking branch redesigns. These projects are very interesting because they truly combine the digital experience with a physical one: how are devices placed and used? What is the ‘literal customer journey’ people are going through? How do they navigate from space to space, and why? How are spaces composed so that they actually fit the desired brand journey?

Here are few quick pointers of things we learned (which not only apply to banks, by the way).

Self-service vs experiential tasks

The most important thing to take into account is the division between self-service and experiential/advisory tasks. To reduce branch traffic issues and have a quick and efficient throughput, it’s important to acknowledge which tasks can be done by customers themselves, and for which tasks they require help from staff.

Self-service tasks include things like: applying for, changing or using a credit and debit card, changing personal information, all ATM services, placing deposits, paying for bills, and more.

Experiential tasks include: financial planning management, help with choosing new financial products, investment advice, learning about financial health and training (among others).

When redesigning a branch, be aware of these differences in tasks, and how they impact the branch experience:

  • Self-service tasks generally are best perceived and rated when they can be done quick, hassle-free and without waiting. There is little room to ‘charge the brand’, as these tasks are functional and more commoditized.
  • On the other hand, experiential tasks show higher complexity and brand involvement, requiring deeper communication and interaction with the brand and its staff. A such, they offer an opportunity for the brand to create and drive loyalty and engagement, much more than with functional tasks.

What this means for branch design

In terms of branch design, having a clear idea of how, when and why people are in need of self-service vs experiential tasks, is key in designing the spatial composition. Take, for example, Umpqua bank and the redesign of the their San Francisco branch.

As you can see, they are very much focused on a creating a user-centric experience: large open spaces, touchscreens, lounge chairs, social corners, training rooms and other elements that show the user: “we want you to have an awesome banking experience”.

Looking closer, we can too see a clear distinction between self-service and experience related tasks. For example, the ‘iPad bar’ (underneath the Christmas tree wall-art) and the iMac hint at places where people can help themselves in taking care of their banking activities. At the other hand, the ‘social areas’ and standing tables reveal a perfect platform to engage in an informal chat with an employee to discuss financial planning or inform about a new financial solution.

ING Direct takes it one step further with their ‘ING Direct Cafe’ (Toronto):



Here, ING is aiming to create an environment that uses social interactions as ‘motor’ for driving brand engagement. In a developed country like Canada, self-service activities are mostly taking place on smartphones. Digital banking is the name of the game, which diminishes the need for in-store, functional banking tasks. In lesser developed countries (parts of LATAM, South America, Africa, parts of Asia, etc.), the branch still plays a more prominent role.

Design for great experiences by understanding user needs

So what we can take away from all of this, is a couple of things:

  • Define your desired branch journey by clearly understanding which tasks are self-service oriented vs experiential
  • Create spatial areas in which these different kinds of tasks can be carried out, without causing problems in traffic throughput or by an illogical order of elements in the customer journey
  • Use informal social interactions and ‘living room’- like areas to stimulate brand engagement and help customers in more complex or advice oriented tasks
  • Understand how digital plays a role in their lives and use digital tools to improve and ease self-service tasks (what can be done on a customer’s smartphone? What is more suitable for iPads in the branch? How are touchscreens used to help in financial planning? Etc.)