The launch of new-look Barclays and Lloyds TSB retail branches this summer suggests that a second wave of bank design innovation is breaking upon the high street.
In the late 1990s, retail banks flexed their imaginations for the first time, resulting in Abbey National installing Costa Coffee shops in its branches – in what looked like a desperate attempt to bring excitement to personal finance.
But last month, Barclays began trialling a new concept in Manchester that simply takes what customers don’t like about banks and opts for damage limitation.
‘Queuing is the biggest irritation for customers,’ says a Barclays spokesman, ‘so we are trying to manage queues and the reactions they provoke’.
From the striking red curlicue queue markers to mood lighting, hotel reception-style teller desks and plasma screens showing BBC News 24, the atmosphere is intended to relax and entertain. Barclays hopes to roll out the full concept to newly acquired properties in central, urban locations.
‘To keep customers coming in and ensure its future, high street banking has to wash its face and prove its worth,’ says a spokesman for HSBC, which is in the middle of rolling out its own heavily automated service concept, designed in-house, across its UK network.
Having seen what Barclays and HSBC has to offer, all eyes are on Lloyds TSB, which is due to launch a new look designed by Allen International in August.
‘People view going to the bank in a similar way as they do going to the dentist,’ says Allen International managing director and chairman Michael Allen. ‘Retail banks have been slow and behind the times.’
This is Allen International’s first job for a UK bank, although the consultancy has worked on bank projects in Europe and emerging markets. Allen identifies his Lloyds TSB appointment as part of a general surge of interest among banks in sophisticated retail design.
‘UK banks used to use their in-house design teams, but that is changing, along with a new trend for banks to employ people from the retail business and the US,’ says Allen.
He could easily be referring to Barclays, whose chief executive of retail banking Deanna Oppenheimer, a leading US banker, recently drafted in former Tesco head of design Helen Dodd, who has overseen the Barclays Bank interiors project.
Indeed, Allen International may already have landed its second UK banking job. The consultancy recently met with the retail department at Barclays, while a spokeswoman from the bank tells Design Week that it is looking to roll out a secret ‘interiors project that is more widespread than the Manchester trail.’
As major high street banks unveil their expansive visions of the future, retail designers must stay ahead of the curve if they want to continue to impress. And branding and digital designers could do well to anticipate a commensurate change in direction from bank clients.
Barclays Manchester trial
• Children’s entertainment area, featuring interactive games
• Hi-tech doormat which dries wet shoes within four steps of the entrance
• Futuristic helpdesk inspired by the Apple Store on Regent Street in London W1
• Self-supporting staircase and self-supporting, sculptural queuing system
• Digital screens showing BBC News 24
• No glass separating tellers