Designing for Security and Privacy in Branches

The old model of banking is disappearing fast. The traditional bank branch layout we’re so used to: formal offices, platform desks and teller lines, are becoming a relic of the past. It was useful during a different time when we needed a branch to perform transactions and we didn’t have the access to current digital channels. With younger, digital native populations entering the work force, bank branch design has had to change.

Case in point: City & County Credit Union’s new Shoreview, MN branch, which was designed from the ground up as their step in fulfilling their vision for a different and innovative approach to banking.

After extensive demographic studies and ideation sessions with City & County staff, NewGround designed a branch that incorporated an innovative design aimed at newer generations, specifically, millennials with young families.

Open Design for a Technology Savvy Clientele

We designed the building for both relaxation and private one-on-one consultation sessions, as well as areas for each universal employee to step “off stage” and get administrative work done in privacy.

Smart, member-friendly technology was integrated into the design, including a personal device bar to introduce and acquaint members to mobile and tablet banking services.  Private offices equipped with videoconferencing capabilities let members access remote financial services experts with ease.

Balancing Openness and Security Concerns

The new branch is more open and friendly. We designed more glass and less drywall, which helped increase efficiency in the branch. We also reduced the footprint of branches and decreased the employee count. City & County purposefully chose a new type of “renaissance” employee –built on the universal banker concept - that would wear multiple hats so as to provide a seamless experience for customers. No more awkward hand-offs between one employee and the other just to perform a different transaction.

We also provided more open sight lines to enable staff to easily see from their private office where they might be having a conversation, to the lobby to ascertain how many people might be waiting.

But this open-concept architecture brought up some security concerns.

With the less-drywall-more-glass concept, we had to fight the perception of members that there was less privacy and security. There was a need to seamlessly build in various protections to help put customers at ease and protect their sensitive financial information.

At City & County’s new branch we designed 3 different areas, each with a different level of privacy.

  1. To make customers feel welcome and provide more of a “main street” instead of “wall street” look and feel, we designed an open lobby area, including the cash bar and a device bar which provided the lowest level of privacy. This area is meant for basic customer service and information gathering.

  2. Gradually increasing privacy, we designed and built a semi-private conversation area with high-backed couches to facilitate more open conversations and inspire confidence. In this area, members can feel comfortable asking more private questions without feeling like they are in a formal office.

  3. Finally, for our most sensitive discussions, we designed private offices with glass walls where members can feel comfortable to discuss personal financial matters and make larger financial decisions. Also, we designed an off-stage area for employees to get work done and perform sensitive financial transactions.

With more open areas, conversations are more likely to be overheard and sensitive information could be easily exposed. Even the glass-walled private offices can be viewed as insecure if not designed correctly. To creatively address these concerns we repositioned computers and we’re adding white noise or music to help isolate private conversations – all without taking away from the sense of openness we’re trying to promote.

It’s a balancing act. If we were only focused on privacy, we’d tuck away the tech bars in the back which would hinder usage and adoption. Likewise if we were only focused on open-concept we would be left with a branch where customer don’t feel safe enough to share private financial information.

Staff Training Is Key

Certainly ill-conceived architectural planning can be at the root of many issues, but more often than not when I see new branch concepts fall short, I find that failure can be traced back to a lack of staff onboarding coupled with a resistance to change. It’s not unusual to find new ideas embraced at an executive level during the design and planning phase, then discover 6 months after doors open that the staff were never provided an equal opportunity to understand and accept the new direction.  As a consequence, this usually  means that employees return to their old methods and habits.

-Brad Ritner, Director of Retail Design, NewGround

With the new branch format and the choice to implement the universal banker concept – employees who are trained to do everything a customer needs - staff need to be trained to recognize what type of conversation a customer or member is looking to have and be able to choose the appropriate location for that conversation based on the level of privacy needed.

The move to design more technology-enabled, open banking spaces is being spurred by a new type of competition. Banks and credit unions are no longer looking to just rise above their traditional competitors, now they are looking to powerhouse retailers like Apple and Starbucks for design and customer experience inspiration.  Millennials and technology focused populations have come to expect this type of experience regardless of the service they seek.

And at the same time, it’s vital that financial institutions keep security and privacy a top priority. Security and privacy issues are part of headlines now more than ever. It’s our role as designers to ensure people feel secure within the environment, while balancing those concerns with the need to provide new design concepts that embrace the open esthetic demanded by today’s workforce.



Related Articles: