Banking giant HSBC is glorying this week in the opening of its biggest ever branch in. Indeed, it is claiming that the outlet in the City of London is the biggest bank in the UK.
And size isn’t the only distinguishing feature. HSBC has taken the opportunity to develop what it calls its ‘new concept design’, giving more space to customers, providing more scope for personal service and including Internet and telephone banking facilities in the mix.
Rebuilding branch networks is the current preoccupation of many banks, with the positioning of tellers behind glass screens giving way to more casual one-to-one layouts. Several, such as Lloyds TSB, have instituted national refurbishment programmes, while others, such as NatWest, appear to be boosting their high street presence after the spate of closures of yesteryear.
This means fewer opportunities for wine bar operators keen to move into former banks, but it is good news for interior designers looking to build relationships with retail banking chains.
Or is it? Experience of some of the recent refits suggests that while banking clients may have got the branding message, their interiors often lack the finesse of a professional design hand, having been rolled out by shopfitters. My local branch of Lloyds TSB, for example, has all the right branded kit, but little account has been taken in the layout of managing queues at peak times or giving customers access to ‘writing ledges’ equipped with forms and pens without stopping the flow of the general queue.
For years financial services has lagged behind other client sectors in the overall quality and innovation of its design. It shows through print communications riddled with visual and literary clichés for many of the main banks and, until recently, through archaic retail outlets.
Now though there is a chance for design to make a difference – and for banks to show customers and staff that they care. It might not be the glamorous work of wine bars, but it touches more lives.
LYNDA RELPH-KNIGHT, EDITOR