The old model of banking is disappearing fast. The traditional 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 either in or entering the workforce, branch design has had to change.

Case in point: City & County Credit Union’s (CCCU) 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 CCCU staff, NewGround designed a branch that incorporated an innovative design aimed at newer generations, specifically, those 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 video conferencing capabilities—provide members access to 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 the branch and decreased the employee count. CCCU purposefully chose a new type of “renaissance” employee—built on the universal banker concept—that would wear multiple hats to provide a seamless experience for members. 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 overcome the perception of members that there was less privacy and security. There was a need to seamlessly build in various protections to help put members at ease and protect their sensitive financial information.

At CCCU’s new branch we designed three (3) different areas, each with a different level of privacy.

1. To make members 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 members 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 re-positioned computers and added 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 we’re only focused on privacy, we’d tuck away the tech bars in the back which would hinder usage and adoption. Likewise, if we were solely focused on an open-concept, we would be left with a branch where members don’t feel safe enough to share private financial information.

Staff Training Is Key
With the new branch format and the choice to implement the universal banker concept—employees who are trained to do everything a member might need—staff must be trained to recognize what type of conversation a member is looking to have and be able to choose the appropriate location for that conversation based on the level of privacy needed.

This might require a change in criteria for hiring new staff, as it takes a different personality type to be successful in such a dynamic and member-centric role. With each new branch they built, CCCU evaluated the current staff to make sure they would be a good fit for the new space. They shifted their focus to bringing in new employees that could embrace the new way of serving members.

Technology-enabled Design with Security and Privacy in Mind
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 rise above their traditional competitors, now they are looking to powerhouse retailers like Apple and Starbucks for design and customer experience inspiration. The next generation—as well as 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 aesthetic demanded by today’s workforce.