In one morning, Chase Bank made its ambitious plans for building more branches around the country more concrete than ever by unveiling its “flagship branch,” reemphasized the importance of face-to-face banker-to-customer contact, and sent Bank of America fair warning it was going to put boots on the ground on its home turf.
As the bank unveiled its 12,500 square-foot high tech/high touch branch, Gordon Smith, Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer, and Consumer & Community Banking CEO, gave a powerful endorsement to physical banking. His words came not long after the termination of the megabank’s Finn mobile bank brand.
“Branches are the heart of the company,” said Smith, speaking to a crowd of Chase employees and media. “Whenever we move into a new location, it’s the branch that drives all of the business we do.”
“We hear an awful lot about, ‘Will branches exist in the future?’,” continued Smith. “The answer is a very resounding ‘Yes’. We have more than 5,000 branches and more than a million people go through those branches in a day.”
“We’ve been waiting a long time to expand Chase Retail,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of the country’s largest bank. He rattled off some of the 20 cities where Chase is going to place 400 branches — places where the bank currently lacks locations, ranging from Boston to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to Raleigh-Durham to Minneapolis. And then he took a quick shot at the country’s #2 bank.
“We’re going right at Bank of America —we’re going to Charlotte,” Dimon said, to the cheers of employees. It will be an uphill fight, but Dimon spoke like a banker spoiling for one. BofA held 46% of deposit market share among banks in North Carolina, in the most recent FDIC report. That was more than the total share of the next 11 largest deposit holders.
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Rethinking, But Keeping Faith in, Bank Branches
The flagship branch is intended to be a touchstone for other branches in the expanding Chase system, not necessarily a prototype that would be replicated in every detail in every location. The new branch was built essentially from scratch in space that had not been a bank branch before. Some locations in the network that will draw on the flagship’s concepts will be renovations of existing space. The bank so far has said that flagship branches will be opened in downtown Los Angeles and Chicago over the next few years.
Overall, the branch is designed to minimize the use of bankers in transactional work. While tellers will be available and in plain sight, the bank hopes to handle about 80% of routine needs with in-branch technology. Bankers will float around the branch, equipped with tablets and with easy access to other technology, in order to be able to interact with consumers as naturally as possible in multiple environments.
“The way we designed this location was to have our customers have a full experience when they come through our doors, instead of just seeing the bank as someplace to process transactions,” Jurida Dobruna, Branch Manager, said in a video filmed for Yahoo Finance.
The intent is to play up, rather than minimize, the human element. Dimon said one goal is to make the branch a community center.
This will include a new effort to hold financial education sessions among groups of different sizes. These sessions are called “Chase Chats,” a concept launched in multiple locations in the bank’s network and that will be undertaken in volume at the flagship. Chase plans to include some celebrity speakers in the chat mix.
“Our flagship branches are meant to be experiential locations where the brand truly comes to life for our customers,” said John McGinley, Head of Real Estate, Chase Consumer Banking.
Chase’s plans and its concept go against trends and against the thinking of many in the industry — bankers and banking observers — who believe the branch is long past its day. 2018 was the fifth consecutive year in which aggregate U.S. branch counts declined, although that is a net amount. Banking futurist Brett King now predicts that banking as an institution will fade away and be replaced by banking functions embedded in other processes.
The size of the flagship branch also indicates Chase’s commitment. The average American bank branch comes to roughly a third of the new location’s floor space.
Walking Through the Chase Flagship Branch
The new branch is located on Madison Avenue — of advertising fame — in busy midtown Manhattan.
Both the main banking area and a separate Chase Private Banking section are centered on a circular core area (1). The main banking space is several stories high, a big part of which is taken up by a modern, high-tech take on a rotunda (2). Inside it are four giant video screens and, at the top, a giant eight-blade ceiling fan large enough to lift a large helicopter.
Entering through the Madison Avenue entrance brings the consumer to a self-service banking area featuring four Chase Enhanced ATMs (3). Nearby, just off of the circular core, are a set of teller stations (4), which can be added to or subtracted from depending on anticipated traffic.
Continuing past that the consumer can either turn towards the core, go to an ask-the-expert desk along the lines of an Apple Store Genius Bar, or enter one of a series of offices set up for closed-door-level private conversation (5).
Consumers entering a side entrance (46th Street) immediately face the core zone, the centerpiece of which, under normal conditions, is a circular concierge desk in the shape of a broken donut (2). Like other elements of the branch’s floor plan, the concierge desk can be moved to different spots depending on what the bank has in mind to do with the main floor — say an event.
Another unique feature is a series of pods — officially called “Casual Meeting Spaces” (6). Most of these face out on the street, with some setback. The pods are designed to be quiet but not completely closed off like the sliding-door offices. There is seating and a computer in each casual meeting space.
“These are intended to promote interplay between staff and the public, by relieving the staff from having to work in fixed positions,” explains Mark Howman, Creative Managing Director at London-based Allen-International, a subsidiary of Accenture Consulting which assisted Chase in designing the branch experience at the new location. (Architects for the project were Spector Group.) The casual meeting spaces were part of Allen-International’s effort to create a high-touch experience that was assisted by high-tech. The look and feel of the casual spaces is a new concept, according to Howman.