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Banks dress up branches

By David McMillin · Bankrate.com
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

Last month, I contemplated whether bank branches really matter anymore based on the growing number of account holders who rely on digital tools for managing their money. A new survey from Cisco seems to answer my question with a "yes" under one condition: Banks dress up those branches with more features and more services.

Cisco's "Omnichannel Study: Winning Strategies for Omni-Channel Banking" surveyed 5,300 consumers in eight countries, and 83 percent of respondents indicated they are highly or somewhat interested in a "specialty branch."

Here's a look at some of the add-ons that North American account holders would like to see.

  • Financial education.
  • Notary public services.
  • Tax preparation.
  • Legal services.
  • Property insurance.
  • Health insurance.
  • Copy, fax and shipping services.
  • Cafes with complimentary wireless Internet access.

The concept of making branches more special seems like an idea that can create more traffic at many banking retail locations around the country and help justify the costs of rent, hourly tellers and building maintenance. For consumers, the idea can improve access to valuable personal finance tips while offering everything from signing official legal documents to buying a cup of coffee.

We've already seen some examples of attempts to make bank branches destinations where account holders can do more than accept deposits and approve loans. ING Direct has cafes that feel more like neighborhood hangouts than stiff bank branches. Oregon-based Umpqua Bank provides a similar cafe feel and offers parents something for their kids: Free Cookie Fridays. While some consumers prefer the formal feel of old-school banking, the emerging generation of account holders seems to enjoy more casual relationships with businesses, and this new model of branches just might be the recipe for a banking industry that can appeal to their tastes.

Regardless of how customers interact with their banks, I don't think the average account holder is ready to completely abandon human interaction. Sure, plenty of customers rely on online and mobile banking for the basics such as monitoring accounts balances and transferring funds, but a screen simply can't supply all of their answers.

What do you think? Would you be more inclined to visit a "special" branch?

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