Personal banking with a latte

By Andrea Milner

The Bank of New Zealand is trying one of its most radical experiments yet with the traditional bank branch.

Gone is the centre-stage teller line and the waiting area outside bankers' private offices. Instead, the inside of its Quay Park branch looks like a cafe.

It also sounds and smells like one as it revolves around a Wishbone cafe.

It has monitors that run promotional videos, an internet kiosk and a free wireless network. Cafe-style booths replace private bankers' offices.

There's still a teller line, but computer monitors swivel so the customer can view the screen alongside bank staff.

It's the new BNZ "concept store" and it will ultimately replace more of the company's branches nationwide.

It has already opened two other such centres in Rolleston and the Remarkables.

Chris Bayliss, BNZ's retail banking general manager, says the store aims to be such a radical change from the traditional branch that if the branding was removed, "you wouldn't know you were in a bank".

The branch-based banking paradigm has changed - but not in line with the strategy most banks have been rolling out from the mid-1990s.

Then, bankers peppered cities with automated teller machines and tried to push branch customers to the internet and telephone banking.

But Bayliss says this overlooked the human enjoyment of interaction with other people.

Now, he says, "banks need to coexist in the high street with other retailers.

"We don't want to be in the quiet corner of the shopping mall - we want to be part of a vibrant retail experience."

And the Retailers Association thinks BNZ has made the jump successfully, accepting it as a new member.

The new branch design takes a leaf from the book of successful retailing techniques. Instead of pamphlets, information is showcased on boxes, to much more engaging effect.

Stands carrying the most popular product boxes divide the teller queuing lanes - in the same vein as supermarkets place magazines and chocolate bars at their checkouts.

Branch employees have been turned into product salespeople - they are encouraged to walk around the store to improve customer service, not to wait behind the counter.

Since it opened at the end of September, around 10-20 appointments take place a day at the branch - but only two customers have asked to use the private meeting room.

The noise of the cafe creates privacy naturally - as well as a relaxed setting. Bayliss says this makes it easier for them to "open up if they want to talk about stresses".

- Herald on Sunday

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