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Environments
New Perspectives on North Star Prototypes
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by CHELSEA HINKEL

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A smart approach for delivering ideal experiences in the branch environment

As a unique point of leverage, the branch banking channel is a crucial connection hub that provides consumers with one of the most important bank benefits. It’s where people develop primary banking relationships and get expert financial advice and counsel. In fact, consumers report guidance shared in-person at the branch is more likely to be acted on and “consistently scores higher with customers than advice given over the phone, through digital channels or via email or physical mail,” according to Believe in Banking

For financial institutions, the branch is a powerful influencer, building relationships, driving deposits and acting as beacon for the brand. “It’s your presence, your locality and your human connection,” says Gina Bleedorn in her recent presentation at Future Branches in Boston. “It’s what gets people to stay and become advocates for life.” But is the branch ready for that kind of spotlight? The reality for most banks and credit unions is that their branches span the spectrum of experience, with the majority falling short of their aspirations. 

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On the range of progress, many banks have advanced their experiences, but they’re doing so at a slower pace. It’s what we call Banking 3.0 – where branches use some automation, extend the drive-up, divert many transactions to ATMs, mobile and digital banking, and realize some efficiencies in the physical environment. While Banking 3.0 is not terribly behind the curve, it certainly doesn’t represent the best experience for most financial institutions or their customers. Banking 4.0, though, is a North Star, the ideal embodiment of experience at any given time. 

North Star Experiences

The North Star recognizes that the purpose of the branch has changed, and is changing. “It is your branch of the future, but the future is never here,” says Gina Bleedorn. “So, it should always be iterating and changing.” In the physical environment, that means there’s only a small area for transactions in the branch (since most of those will be taken care of in other channels) and the majority of the space is primed for making connections, supported by tools like video enablement, video chat, video tellers, and ITMs. “Most of your North Stars are probably around 4.0, but you want to evolve them forward and backwards.” 

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Financial institutions that have embraced the North Star approach have been successful at establishing “a new experience model and a new experience standard,” says Gina Bleedorn. Institutions can then leverage this standard to renovate existing facilities and build new ones as they grow, either organically or through M&A. Leveraging the North Star is a structured way of reinvesting and saving at the same time. “You can relocate, you can refresh a little bit, refresh a lot, do a light or major renovation, and expand using these new formats.”

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Refreshing current locations can have a significant low-cost, high-value impact that reenergizes and reorients organizations toward delivering better banking experiences – now and in the future. This North Star can also help deliver on leave-behind strategies to maintain presence when exiting a market or help deliver a better overall design when a bank is relocating to a more optimal location in the market. All of these are opportunities to enhance experience with a balance of investment and efficiency. 

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Ultimately flexible and scalable, this approach doesn’t just apply to large branch formats like flagships. By iterating the North Star over time, banks can grow and save and develop prototypes for different formats. “You have to decide what's right for you, but ITMs and video enablement are changing the game for how efficient you can be,” says Gina Bleedorn. “The [smaller] points of presence are about an eighth of the CapEx and an eighth of the OpEx of a regular branch.” No matter the format type, the North Star approach helps banks maximize perceived presence and capitalize on the network effect. 

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For more information on optimizing the branch banking channel, or to speak with one of our banking experts, contact us at info@adrenalineagency.com. Be sure to also stay tuned in to Believe in Banking as it highlights industry information and insights for banking leaders and Adrenaline’s Perspective channel featuring banking and credit union strategies for success.



Adrenaline is an end-to-end brand experience company serving the financial industry. We move brands and businesses ahead by delivering on every aspect of their experience across digital and physical channels, from strategy through implementation. Our multi-disciplinary team works with leadership to advise on purpose, position, culture, and retail growth strategies. We create brands people love and engage audiences from employees to customers with story-led design and insights-driven marketing; and we design and build transformative brand experiences across branch networks, leading the construction and implementation of physical spaces that drive business advantage and make the brand experience real.

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