On-line banks brew up new way to reach customers

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Are bank branches dead? It seems the continued evolution of on-line banking has indeed outmoded the need for personal interactions, with smartphones giving us the ability even to make deposits without the warm smile and assistance of a teller.

We have become comfortable fitting our banking around our busy schedules, trading the security of brick-and-mortar bank branches for the convenience of a mobile lifestyle. In fact, recent Pew Research/Federal Reserve research found that 81% of those of who manage household finances banked online at least once in the last twelve months, and a startling 56% of consumers use on-line bill pay at least once in a month.

Our changing habits have definitely had a profound impact on the retail banking industry as banks close branches and rethink their real estate holdings. The bank branch isn’t dead; it is being reborn into something that will allow them to reinforce their brand, drive foot traffic and entice their customers to buy more complicated services such as lending and investment management.

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Capital One 360 is one organization intent on turning our notion of a bank branch on its head. The Virginia-based, on-line only bank is unveiling several Boston marketing offices that resemble coffee shops more than banks. Each of the planned branches will incorporate a full-service Peet’s Coffee and Tea store, and while they do have an ATM, they don’t have any tellers. The stores are designed as a space for Capital One 360 customers to socialize and connect with bank associates who can assist them with more complex banking needs—a physical space to support their on-line, mobile banking platform.

For their first café on Tremont Street in Boston, Capital One 360 partnered with JLL Construction for the fit-out.  The space includes a full-service coffee bar, LCD video walls incorporated into an all glass façade and a warm and inviting ambiance. Venetian plaster, faux brick walls and a wood slat ceiling define the space and polished concrete floors are intricately inlaid with an elliptical reclaimed wood floor product. The café will offer music and Wi-Fi to customers, as well as information on Capital One services via multiple LCD displays throughout the space, all the while hiding the inner workings of a fully functioning café in the background.

In addition to the Tremont Street location, Capital One 360 will be opening cafes in Back Bay (the Boylston Street location is already open), Coolidge Corner, and Harvard Square. These stores will make Boston the first city in the country to have multiple 360 cafes.

“Boston is a vibrant, digitally savvy city with residents who embrace innovation and ingenuity, and the city is an ideal place for us to expand and build upon the success of our 360 Cafés,” said Capital One’s head of direct banking, Jim Kelly, in a prepared statement. Once again, Boston’s tech community is leading a national effort.

What does this trend mean for other changing consumer-based industries? How does the need for physical connections impact e-commerce giants like Google? How do mobile technology firms help connect us to more sophisticated financial services? These are questions best answered in a comfortable couch with a very real cup of coffee.

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