Sitting in a team meeting, I blurted out: I don't like the branch decor! As soon as the words came out of my lips I wanted them back. Why? I had nothing but my opinion to support my assertion.
Last week I moderated a strategic planning retreat in a swanky conference room. Wood trim, high def TV projection, high-back leather chairs. The discussion moved to branding, not one of my strong suits as a finance and strategy wonk. I brought attention to the decor of the room. Mandatory disclosure, the owner of the facility/bank director said the building was an albatross. So don't get me wrong, I'm not saying build a monstrosity. My suggestion is that branding goes far beyond your color palate, logo, and advertising.
Branding is how you answer your phone, speed to the closing table, employee attire, and yes the appearance of your offices and buildings. How do you want your customers to feel about doing business with you? If you want them to feel as though you don't waste a nickel on things like soft colors in offices or power washing the branch, then perhaps a miserly appearance is consistent with your brand.
Look at the accompanying pictures. What does each one say to you? Do you see my point?
Don't get me wrong, there are banks that pride themselves in keeping costs so low that you better entertain customers at the local diner versus Ruth's Chris Steak House. For these banks, the top office comes with a sense of pride that shareholder money is prudently spent.
So are the owners of the bottom office spendthrifts? Not necessarily. A long time ago, I was trained as a branch manager in a supermarket branch. That was trial by fire, let me tell you. One thing I learned during that period, other than to hunt for customers in the "organic" aisle because more affluent people hung there, was that people generally don't like to discuss serious financial matters in a supermarket, no matter how distinct the in-store branch was designed. Sure, they liked to perform transactions. It was very convenient. But do things like talk about a loan or business cash flow management? Where's your closest "real branch", thank you very much. Will your target customers feel the same about the top pictured office?
This is why the favorite wood finish of a Trust Department is mahogany. Not a scientific study, mind you, but within the margin of error of a presidential election poll. The reason that Trust Department decor is so posh is because of how they want customers to "feel" when they come into the office. The Department wants to portray success, distinction, and conservatism.
Trust Department decor may not be ideal for other segments, like farmers. Sure farmers may be high net worth too, but they get their hands dirty when they go to work and may not view kindly a work space that doesn't look like there's much work getting done. Much less the potential that the bank relationship manager recently had a manicure.
My point is this: There should be alignment between strategy, employees, technology, and yes, the physical plant. What do you want to portray to your customers and prospects about your bank without saying a word to them?
Because our offices and buildings are saying it to them. Whether we like it or not.