For Financial Institutions, the Appearance of Your Branches Means Everything
You already know that image matters in the financial services industry. This spans multiple aspects — from people and processes to facilities and beyond. Here, we’ll explore the importance of financial institution and bank remodeling, its impact on a brand, and how it ensures institutions deliver a consistently positive experience.
A brand is often thought of as the responsibility of the marketing function. While marketing usually does manage a brand at a high level, it’s up to your organization to live that brand out. Executive leaders, sales team members, branch representatives, administrative employees, and others should all understand what your brand represents, how to communicate its tenets, and how to contribute to it in their daily work.
At its heart, a brand lives in the people that make up the organization. Employees must maintain the utmost professionalism at all levels because it reflects their commitment and capability, impacts customers’ and communities’ perceptions, and contributes to developing deeper, long-lasting relationships and sales performance.
But a brand also lives in the physical aspects of an organization. Your facilities themselves — whether you’re a banking organization or a non-retail financial institution — are significant contributors to the success of your financial institution’s brand. Lobbies, office spaces, counters, restrooms, and other spaces must be clean, tidy, and accommodating to customers and employees. They must have a contemporary appearance that demonstrates alignment with current tastes, uses the latest technology, and provides accessibility for all. And while what’s on the inside counts, the exterior is just as critical. This is because it makes the first impression in a branch visit. It might not be the first impression the person has of your brand, but it’s the first of that specific visit.
Here’s an Example
A couple that relocated to a community where your institution has a few branches is looking to move a few decades’ worth of hard-earned assets from their former (and smaller) institution on the other side of the country. The couple did their research online and found that your institution has favorable rates on deposit accounts. While they could open an account online, they have questions and want to speak to a representative in person. (After all, according to PwC research, 65% of consumers say they want access to a local branch — despite the growth of online and mobile banking technology.)
As the couple arrives, they almost blow a tire on cratered asphalt. The building signage is flickering. The entryway doors are janky. The interior design is a menagerie of bland materials and colors. Harsh lighting strains their eyes. Despite a warm welcome, the damage has been done. They no longer have confidence in your brand. Is this really the kind of place where they want to keep their money? If the institution doesn’t care about maintaining its appearance, can it be trusted to manage the couple’s resources properly?
But Is It Worth Investing in Financial or Bank Remodeling Considering Changing Consumer Preferences?
It’s no secret that consumers prefer online and mobile banking and that the industry has been adapting accordingly. Despite that, and despite even the pandemic’s impact on the branch model for banks, physical locations will continue to play a vital role in a financial institution’s brand. According to research from McKinsey & Company, in the U.S., 54% of consumers prefer a branch or ATMs over online or mobile solutions, either due to the ability to work with personal bankers (16%) or because of security concerns (38%).
In addition to developing new omnichannel and automated solutions and experiences, McKinsey also noted the following as one of the ways banks (and other financial institutions) need to rethink the branch model:
“Improved branch formats and design. A branch’s physical presence, from the location and size to décor, needs to be consistent with the bank’s brand. High-end finishes are not a requirement. For example, a multitude of mass-market brands in hotels, retail, and restaurants forego frills but deliver consistent quality tailored to their target customers in their physical space. While banks should have been attending to this area all along, many have allowed it to become a lower priority, leading to an uneven customer experience.”
While it’s crucial for financial institutions to be investing in new omnichannel experiences, ensuring branch locations are consistent with the brand should also be on the organization’s radar. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done approach, either. Consistent maintenance of branch locations (both interior and exterior) should be included to ensure that brand elements such as signage, exterior lighting, any graphics or digital features, and spaces themselves are in good operating and physical condition. The first step in this approach should be with financial/bank remodeling.
4 Brand Elements That Should Be Considered in a Financial or Bank Remodeling Program
1. Interior & Exterior Signage Systems
Signage is one of the most essential elements of your institution’s overall brand — one that must be carried out consistently from the high-rise office building or headquarters to the most distant of your branch locations and at every point in between. This goes far beyond the large, illuminated monument or pylon signs that identify your branches from farther away and even structural signage. Signage is everywhere in and around your branches — from the examples already mentioned to interior digital signage boards and televisions and experiential signage systems that connect a location to the local community.
Carefully consider signage in your financial/bank remodeling program, as it plays a pivotal role in building a connection with your customers and the community. Properly lit, clean, and functional signage — external or internal — tells a story about your brand and how you think about your image. If any of your signage systems are showing their age, are frequently not illuminated, are flickering, or are using outdated lighting technology, upgrading these systems and maintaining them proactively over time will ensure the image they convey is the right one.
Case in point: Learn how Stratus developed a program to proactively address any discovered signage and lighting issues at more than 4,000 sites nationwide for a leading financial institution. Download the case study now.
2. ATM Signage & Lighting
ATM systems must be considered with any bank remodeling program. With consumers still relying on ATMs for access to cash, quick deposits, and other transactions, ensuring these systems are well maintained, effectively marked, and adequately illuminated is essential. ATMs are another customer touchpoint and brand experience, and signage that isn’t correctly lit or functioning could deter customers from using them. If your institution has an ATM housing structure or a drive-thru bay, the signage elements on these structures should also be well lit and maintained.
ATM systems should also adapt and change alongside your brand over time. If your institution rebrands or otherwise updates its image and messaging, ATMs would be a worthwhile point of contact to consider in a bank remodeling initiative. Because your customers interact with ATMs often, they serve as an excellent opportunity to uphold your brand image and message in your customers’ minds. From branding and maintaining banks of ATMs in non-branch locations to updating the structures, lighting, and design that go with them, your ATMs are a key delivery method for your brand. Make sure they’re sharing the right message.
Case in point: When a historic bank brand was acquired by a competitor, Stratus developed a brand conversion program that provided temporary branding for 125 ATM conversion locations and assisted in deploying 230 ATMs. Learn how we did it.
3. Branch Exteriors
Remember — your financial institution or bank branches’ exterior is the first impression customers and visitors have of your brand in that specific experience. If it’s their first in-branch experience with your brand, it’s important for it to be a positive, memorable one. The last thing you need is a situation similar to the example we described earlier. Even loyal customers who’ve been with your institution for years or even decades and who consistently lean on your branches for service will notice malfunctioning signage and lighting and outdated or damaged elements like doors, floors, walls, ceilings, and so on.
If your branch locations need an update, whether to improve physical appearance or ensure ADA compliance, their exteriors must be considered. Parking lots, sidewalks and medians, landscaping, exterior design elements, roofing, and other elements — when well-executed and in good condition — speak volumes about your brand. They tell visitors that you care about their appearance and, more importantly, that you care about providing a satisfying experience. It builds trust and deepens your connection with them.
Additionally, a bank remodeling program should consider lighting and energy management. Often, parking lots and exterior lighting systems don’t effectively illuminate the surrounding area. This is essential for financial institutions for safety and accessibility reasons. When employees and customers leave the building at night, they must be able to see their way and feel safe. Illumination surveys, LED retrofits, and other energy programs are worthwhile investments in any bank remodeling initiative.
Case in point: When a leading banking institution wanted to reduce its energy spend in a strategic way that maximized savings upfront, we developed a custom program that prioritized locations with the most significant opportunity. Download the case study here.
4. Branch Interiors
Last but certainly not least are the interiors of your branch locations. While the exterior of a branch creates the initial impression during each visit, the interior serves as the bridge between the external and the delivery of the brand promise by your employees. It’s a critical halfway point because a positive impression from a polished exterior followed by a negative interior impression completely undermines the entire experience. Everything must go hand-in-hand to maximize the impact.
For example, interior signage creates a highly professional and appealing image for any branch lobby. Logo signage, digital graphics, experiential graphics, wayfinding signage, and beautiful lighting all combine to create a welcoming environment that any customer would want to be in. But if one or more of those elements aren’t functioning or are clearly outdated or worn out, that experience will be lessened. Additionally, ADA compliance applies to interiors as well. Your bank remodeling program must consider applicable updates to make your locations usable and comfortable for all.
Case in point: For several years, our team has served as the brand implementation partner for a Big Four firm, providing a variety of brand elements at 75 nationwide locations. See our work for this industry-leading firm here.
In a World of Infinite Possibilities, Stratus Delivers Ideal Solutions
Stratus is a nationwide brand implementation company that specializes in serving banking institutions and other financial services companies with all of their signage, energy, refresh & remodel, and maintenance program needs. Every day, we’re helping the country’s largest, most recognized financial brands deepen their connections with customers, revitalize their brands throughout their respective footprints, and ultimately grow their businesses by establishing trust with their communities.
We achieve that through a combination of brand implementation services, a national network of more than 2,300 proven and graded field partners throughout North America, advanced technology systems, program management, and signage manufacturing capabilities. Altogether, this approach enables us to identify ideal solutions from infinite possibilities, helping financial brands leverage solutions specific to their industry, customers, and goals for long-term success.
Invest in Your Brand Now for Long-Term Rewards Via Financial Institution and Bank Remodeling
If you’re considering a bank remodeling or financial branch refresh initiative or need support with any of the services and brand elements mentioned here, our team is ready to get to work on a solution specific to your brand.