Banks hope futuristic flagships can tempt new customers

Sun Nov 3, 2013 3:09am EST
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By Lionel Laurent

VELIZY, France (Reuters) - Installation art, interactive walls and a robot doorman; the flagship branches of the world's top banks have come a long way from the iron grilles and potted plants of old.

To compete against online-only rivals and to attract a new generation of customers to branches, banks are installing sleek interiors and hi-tech gadgetry.

ATMs that read fingerprints, touch-screen desks to flick through your finances and videoconference units for expert advice are all on display at payments-technology firm Wincor Nixdorf's WING.DE showroom in the Paris suburb of Velizy.

"Banks are investing a lot in their retail branches," said Steve Bousabata, head of Wincor's French banking services arm. "They want customers to come back."

The reason is clear: after years of relying on branches to drive retail revenue, European banks expect such networks to supply only 62 percent of sales by 2020 from today's average of 81 percent, according to Equinox Consulting.

Banks, especially those still nursing losses from the financial crisis, are under pressure to cut costs and are balancing the need to pare back branch networks by sprucing up select outlets.

But branches are still the first point of contact for many customers and are still the primary location for product sales like mortgages, new accounts and insurance, underlining the importance of upgrading them for a more tech-savvy generation.

The difficulty is knowing exactly what belongs in the branch of the future and what is better left behind.   Continued...