Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Making banking a beach

Westpac's seaside revamp in Queen St one of 50 refits to localise appearance.

The beach theme of the Queen St branch matches the location on the old foreshore. Photo / Steven McNicholl
The beach theme of the Queen St branch matches the location on the old foreshore. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Entering Westpac's new flagship Queen St store feels like you've just stepped off the beach to do some banking: a cut-down 1970s caravan has been transformed into a cafe in front of Waiheke Island's Oneroa, the central isle flooring resembles a wharf, and meeting rooms are named after waterside suburbs.

The bank's biggest, most profitable branch in New Zealand features deck chairs replacing standard office issue, customers can "meet" in Mechanics Bay, Narrow Neck or Stanley Point, flowering pohutukawa decorate the walls, furniture has cheerful, awning-style red and white stripes, and business customer Jucy Rentals features in the window display.

The 550sq m branch at 79 Queen St has undergone a three-month renovation, which executives admitted was initially scheduled to take nine weeks, but yesterday curious visitors stepped into the unusual store with its bright corporate livery.

The ceiling decor has taken on a wave-like movement, sporting transparent, bubble-like glass lamp shades, cresting towards the back in a circular feature where more than 3000 flying Ws hang like seagulls above a casual seating hub.

"There are 208 white Ws to represent each of our branches," Ian Han-kins, northern region head of retail, said of the ceiling installation.

Some experts predict bank branches will go the way of the dinosaur but Hankins said the Queen St store disproved them: "The branch is not dying. About 80,000 people walk in our doors every day."

A powhiri is scheduled for 6.30am today near the end of Fort St in Auckland's designer fashion zone, opposite Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Gai McGrath, head of retail banking, said the beach theme was appropriate to the area and many other branches would be refurbished.

"All our locations will be tailored to reflect the locality they are in. For Queen St, it's about the foreshore that used to be on the doorstep of the branch. Queen St is at the forefront of what is happening internationally in retail banking," she said.

Context Architects designed the interior, which offers customers free wi-fi with iPads and tablets and smart ATMs on the street with large cash-drop boxes for business banking. A 52,000-piece Lego model of a Westpac Rescue Helicopter is the centrepiece of the branch makeover.

Hankins said about 50 larger branches - 30 in the North Island - were being refurbished: Dargarville's Westpac already had an agricultural theme, Epsom had gone multi-cultural and Highbrook at East Tamaki would soon take on an industrial look to reflect the office park.

Andrew Tasker, Westpac project manager, said each outlet would take on a different theme.

"The key is to localise the fitouts," he said.

Hankins said changes were within existing budgets but would not say how much was being spent.

Interest.co.nz reported this week on how the BNZ was looking to retailers like Michael Hill International and American clothing group Gap for tips on how to improve its branches, or stores as they're called within the bank.

- NZ Herald

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