The Three-Legged Stool of Branch Transformation

By Anthony Burnett

Lobbies filled with furniture that looks as if it could double as a set from the original 1960s version of Star Trek. Lounging areas that are one disco ball short of a design for a hot new nightclub. Lighting that would feel equally at home in an art gallery for postmodern sculpture. The branch of the future may not resemble the serious, business-minded look of the past, but what’s behind all that glitz is anything but fly-by-night.

What’s behind all that design?

This is, after all, the place where all of your bank’s channels converge. It’s the key cog in your omnichannel delivery network. The branch is more than just four walls, a vault and a teller line. As the saying goes, there’s a method to the madness. The branch of the future is a three-legged stool composed of the right mix of:

  1. Function
  2. Customer experience
  3. Technology integration

What’s your function?

The branch houses a process for people. So, the natural first step is to understand what functions are needed within it. A common starting point is uncovering and understanding the function of a transaction. Is it teller-assisted (teller line or pods)? Self-service (ATMs)? Or assisted self-service (interactive teller machines)?

Knowing these functions is the key to decisions about placement, staffing and tools needed. Additional services offered in the branch potentially include lending, insurance or investments and should be included in this phase.

Think in zones.

As the function takes shape, then the desired customer experience is layered on top of the function. It’s a mistake for a bank to skip over the branch’s function and go straight for experience on the theory that experience is what is considered hip, cool or relevant. Certainly, the customer experience matters—and matters a lot—but not at the expense of function, which must come first.

The customer experience includes the first impression, zones of customer activity and support. Each zone accomplishes both a function and an experience through the branch’s staff and tools. Zones are established by length of time:

  • Entry zone – Where first impressions happen
  • 1-5-minute zone – Greeters, transactions and quick decisions
  • 5-20-minute zone – Consultation, manager access and full screen video to solve larger problems
  • Support zone – Workroom, breakroom and storage
  • Add on – Something extra, like a community room

Tech is the final piece.

Once the functions of the branch and the expected needs of the customers are identified, the all-important integration of technology is applied to make everything run. Cash automation/recycling at the point of the transaction creates time for staff to focus less on counting and balancing, and more on tending to the needs of the customer.

Self-service tools like ATMs and ITMs (interactive teller machines) allow customers to serve themselves with or without the assistance of staff—during and after hours. And automation is not limited to cash transactions. It also includes video conferencing, security and back office equipment to accelerate the business.


Although research shows nearly 60 percent of customers start their journey online, more than 70 percent will end up in a branch. Therefore, the bank branch is here to stay, and the concept of the three-legged stool brings together the key pieces to hold up your branch of the future.

Anthony Burnett is the customer experience director for LEVEL5, Atlanta. The firm assists financial institutions in developing branch and main office locations. Email: [email protected].