By Carol Gilhawley
At a time when some bankers are questioning the need for branches that are expensive to staff and maintain, Lead Bank has done something completely different.
Essentially, Lead Bank has created a branch that’s a workspace between work and home.
A family-owned community bank in Missouri that began as Garden City Bank in 1928, Lead Bank has three locations in the Kansas City metro area. It opened its newest location in October 2015 in downtown Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District, right beside the new streetcar line.
The Crossroads location is different because it’s open to anyone in the community—customers and non-customers—who want to:
- Conduct business meetings
- Hold community gatherings
- Sit and work on their laptops at large communal tables
The idea for this new type of branch began in 2012 when Joshua Rowland, CEO and vice chairman, wanted to put the bank on a different trajectory to become Kansas City’s best small business bank. Initially he thought of having a concierge space with some lending officers like a “souped-up loan production office,” he said. But then the vision became clearer.
Rowland’s family bought the bank in 2005 and he came to work there in 2008. In 2013, they acquired a stand-alone former bank building that sits in the entrepreneurial center of Kansas City. This multi-tenant building has Lead Bank’s branch and corporate office on the first floor and commercial tenants on the second and third floors.
“During the buildout phase, we took our design cues from small business incubators,” Rowland told us. “We thought about how we could maximize our clients’ satisfaction through technology. We needed to be a vital part of the economic community we serve. Why build a branch if people don’t come into them anymore? Yet, for a small bank with no brand recognition if you don’t invest in branches then nobody believes you exist. Our flagship location had to be relevant and vital.”
The branch’s layout is a contemporary open working space with no private offices. In place of desks and cubicles, there are two open library tables where Lead bankers sit on the same side of the table as their customers in order to guide them.
There are two “mentor booths,” similar to diner seating, that provide some privacy. The branch has a “workbench,” which features a fully functional ATM, videoconferencing and an Internet portal. In addition, there are four private conference rooms and a café.
“We’ve innovated at a practical level by providing space for our customers to have a conference or a board meeting,” Rowland explained. “We’ve taken away all the teller counters and we’ve re-trained our staff to become ABA-certified universal bankers. The first banker a client sees when they walk in should be able to solve what they need, including lending.”
The staff of five or six can sit anywhere in the bank—or walk around communicating with their customers in person, on the phone, or by instant message and video conferencing via their iPads. “Certainly Kansas City business innovators can see we’re speaking their language,” Rowland said. “We have a desire for innovation and a desire to serve so it’s not the typical conversation you’d have with a banker.”
For the design of 6,000 square feet they collaborated with a local architect firm, Clockwork Architecture + Design, which recently won a Gold Award from the International Interior Design Association for its “outstanding innovative interior design/interior architecture” on Lead Bank’s branch.
They designed a rooftop space for indoor and outdoor events that can hold 200 people. Many local organizations, from nonprofits to yoga instructors to area businesses, use this rooftop patio for meetings and after-hour gatherings.
Adjacent to the bank, the Crossroads parking lot has rechargeable car stations that are available to the public. Lead Bank hosts First Fridays in the parking lot to allow local artists showcase their work and where local food trucks park to sell their food.
Lead Bank’s name came about in June 2010 when Garden City Bank was rebranded. It had always been seen as a go-to business bank, yet no one knew its name. In the past three years, Lead Bank’s brand recognition has grown and so have its assets—to $192 million.
Each day, people come into the Crossroads branch to use one of their rooms or to visit the café. “It’s a quiet, quality place and people respond to that,” Rowland said. “Now the conversations we have are 100% different. People see we’ve tried to create a flexible environment for their conversation. From that immediate first contact, they know they are valued, and that transcends age, gender and ethnicity.”
Kansas City’s Mayor Sly James commented that he’d “like to thank Lead Bank for their commitment to fostering innovation in our city’s Crossroads district. They are a shining example of what happens when businesses choose to meet their clients where they are through new modes of technology and access.”
When someone walks into the branch they’ll notice there are no teller lines and a staff member will stand up and ask, “How can I help you?” This approach, Rowland says, has been “pleasantly surprising and rejuvenating for our team, like we’re welcoming them into our home.”
Rowland, who practiced law before becoming a banker, believes community banks have a different and compelling value to make their communities better. “We literally exist on Main Street to serve Main Street,” he concludes. “We may have a small footprint, but now we have a lot more footprints inside!”
Carol Gilhawley is a business and financial industry journalist based in the Greater New York City area.