How TD Merged an Innovation Lab with a Retail Branch to Drive Customer Insight

When TD Bank decided to upgrade an aging 6,000-square foot branch in the University City section of Philadelphia, it turned part of the space into an innovation lab known as TD Workshop. Blending a new-ideas incubator with a working retail branch has delivered unexpected benefits.

A member of TD Bank’s mobile app development team was attending a June hackathon in the bank’s Philadelphia innovation lab when inspiration struck. She pulled aside the lab’s manager, Karen Angier, reminding her that the development team would be launching a redesign of the mobile app.

Looking around the lab, which is part of a fully functioning TD branch, she asked, “Do we have an opportunity here to actually interact with customers?”

The answer was an unequivocal, “Yes.”

The innovation lab, known as TD Workshop, opened in mid-2022, after the bank overhauled a 6,000-square foot “store” in the University City section of Philadelphia to carve out space for it. (TD refers to its branches as “stores.”)

lobby of td bank

The intent was to create an opportunity for the store’s 10 staff members — who actively engage with the four-person store transformation and innovation team — to test new ideas in an actual store setting.

A rotating cast of bankers from TD’s multiple lines of business also visit the workshop to collaborate with the innovation team on devising plans for the bank’s future. The testing has touched all divisions of the bank, ranging from digital signage at TD stores to point-of-sale (POS) devices for merchants.

Angier, who had just arrived at the innovation lab in April, immediately saw the potential benefits of bringing in the mobile app development team.

Getting Face-to-Face Customer Feedback

Normally, the TD Workshop space (which is filled with modular furniture) is separated from the retail banking area by moveable glass panels. For the mobile app testing, the workshop staff restructured the panels, which openedthe space into a “living room-type setting,” Angier says.

When customers came into the store to complete transactions, they were invited to take a seat and interact with a mock version of the new app, delivering real-time feedback to developers.

“We really saw great traction there, great feedback from customers and huge engagement that we found to be extremely valuable,” Angier says. The insights from those sessions led to significant improvements of the summer 2023 launch of the mobile app.

It’s a process Angier says she has seen play out repeatedly in the new space.

“Within TD, our stores remain a key part of our engagement model,” she says. “Having an innovative space that provides visibility into an active store has really given our lines of business a unique opportunity not only to have a visual of a store that’s in action, but also to have access to the store, so that when they’re in the space, and they’re brainstorming, or they’re ideating, they’re able to see what their decisions impact.”

At a time when a slew of other U.S. banks are cutting back on branches, TD still maintains more than 1,100 stores in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Since January 2019, the bank has opened 44 new stores and in 2023 has renovated 53.

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Connecting the Digital and Physical Channels

It’s precisely that sort of engagement TD Bank was hoping to see when it launched the workshop, says Steve Turley, senior vice president and the head of consumer distribution strategy, planning, and innovation at the bank.

The TD Workshop location on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, within walking distance of two major universities and just a short drive from bank’s headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J., guarantees not just a steady source of pedestrian traffic, but a central meeting point where bankers from multiple lines of business can converge to share ideas.

“We’ve hosted over 80 in-person sessions. They really run the gamut. We’ve had ideation sessions, hackathons, test-and-learns, and community events,” Turley says. “We are very passionate about the opportunity to connect the channels and bring some emerging technologies into the physical environment.”

Turley frequently comes back to the idea of “connecting the channels” of the bank to help customers access services, often in an innovative package. For example, customers have tested out virtual reality headsets, which display visual models of their credit card usage across different categories of spending.

The workshop also has hosted experiments in video banking, where customers can have a virtual appointment with a product specialist not usually represented at the stores.

“We’re blending the physical and the digital, allowing customers to connect with TD colleagues via video, testing out how that works within a live store space,” Turley says, adding the video capabilities opens up opportunities to provide meetings not just via phone, but through face-to-face conversations as well.

Live Testing at TD Workshop

When the TD Workshop introduces new tools and processes, it refers to them as “activations,” many of which have been successful, says Angier.

In recent months, the workshop has been the site of testing for the bank’s “virtual queue,” which allows customers to “check in” at busy locations and wait where they please. “So, if they come in and they see that there’s a wait time, they can step out,” says Angier.”They can go to the grocery store, and we keep them up to date through text on where their place is in line, and when they can anticipate the need to be back at the store.”

The virtual queue also gives the bank the opportunity to highlight the availability of various self-service options that customers may not be aware of, she says.

Earlier this year, the workshop made payments devices from the fintech Clover available on site, so the bank’s merchant customers could try them out. The point-of-sale devices, typically used in retail shops and restaurants, can accept traditional and contactless payments.

“We’re blending the physical and the digital, allowing customers to connect with TD colleagues via video.”
— Steve Turley, TD Bank

In the first phase, “we had Clover devices set up within the store location, supported by what we call ‘payment advisors.’ These are team members that work directly with our merchant service teams,” Angier says.

The aim of the first phase was to simply gauge interest among walk-in merchant customers in learning about an alternative payments system when presented with an opportunity to do so in-store.

In the second phase, the TD Workshop began reaching out to merchant customers to offer individual demonstrations.

“It was definitely a great activation,” Angier says. “We had some really good learnings from it.” Though she says she is unable to share any of the specifics, TD Bank’s Merchant Solutions business continues to highlight assorted Clover devices prominently in its advertising, suggesting a fruitful partnership.

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Listening to Colleague ‘Influencers’

The availability of the innovation lab also allowed for improvements to some internal programs.

For some time, TD Bank has operated what it calls a “colleague influencer” program, in which a group of experienced frontline bankers from stores throughout the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania region share insights and concerns with representatives of the bank’s different lines of business.

The ability to bring those groups together in person, in the environment of a working branch, has increased the effectiveness of the program, Turley says. “It’s something of a natural partnership, with the live space, to work with these folks.”

Angier agrees, adding, “We’ve effectively been able to foster collaboration between the retail colleague influencer group and lines of business,” by having them do ideation sessions together at the TD Workshop.

Cultivating Community Ties

Turley says that one area in which the innovation lab has exceeded expectations has been in its ability to connect TD Bank with the community. There’s been strong demand from a variety of local organizations to use the space for events and meetings, such as financial literacy seminars for local universities.

“You know, just having spent a year plus in the community, it’s hard to imagine gaining insights in the same way if you’re in a back office somewhere, and I think the engagement that we’ve seen from the community has really borne that out,” says Turley.

Rob Garver is a journalist who has been covering the intersection of public policy and the private sector for more than 20 years. He has extensive experience reporting on the federal oversight of financial services firms and its impact on both the industry and its customers for American Banker, among other publications.

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