Stand on a nearby street corner, and you can almost hear the declarations that this is the end of retail banking as we know it.
At least, that is how it feels from time to time. It is true, though, that the bank branch is evolving. Gone are the days where a customer would be required to go to their nearest branch in order to perform a simple transaction or talk to a banker. Now, technology is taking hold, both inside the branch and outside. From smartphones to online banking and smarter ATMs, the bank branch of the future is going to look a little different.
But what, exactly, does that mean? And is it truly the end of days for the traditional brick-and-mortar branch?
"The bank branch is here to stay."
Branches aren't going away
Before we can touch on the future of the bank branch, it is important to see whether or not the rumors of brick-and-mortar banking's demise are true.
Not really, at least according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC found that the traditional branch is still the most popular way for consumers to bank. The government agency insured more than 94,000 branches as of June 2014, down only 4.8 percent from the record high noted in 2009.
This comes even as technology is reducing the need for brick-and-mortar branches. Thanks to online and mobile banking, consumers visit branches less often. Even so, the branch itself isn't in danger of going extinct - it is just evolving.
Where is the branch headed?
So then, what is the future of the bank branch? The answer is a new, tech-heavy look. Soon, most branches will incorporate new technology, not just to replace the teller-customer relationship, but enhance it.
For example, researchers at JPMorgan Chase are currently conducting a wide range of experiments to figure out which tech tools are right for their branches, according to The New York Times. The testing is going on at JPMorgan Chase's retail banking headquarters, where a wide range of ideas are being analyzed.
"Customers are not abandoning the branches, but they are looking for different things when they come in," William Sheley, head of branch and ATM innovation for the financial institution, said in an interview.
One trend taking hold, both at JPMorgan Chase and at other banks around the country, is the idea of the "teller kiosk." Instead of a row of tellers, there are now individual kiosks throughout the branch. Each one is self-sustaining, with cash recyclers, computers, ATMs and other features on hand. There, bankers can act in a multi-capacity role and aren't stuck at their desks.
"Bankers, not just tech, are the future of the branch."
The people are the future
In fact, this idea is the real future of the bank branch: versatile employees. Technology is often viewed as the star of the show - and it is necessary - but the best branches will thrive with quality tellers and bankers.
This harkens back to the universal banker model, where tellers are out and well-rounded bankers are in. Employees are expected to help customers with a variety of tasks, and technology can facilitate that goal. This is where a great bank branch sets itself apart. It takes those tech tools and uses them to reform the employee role, not replace the employee altogether.
And this is why the future of the bank branch is sound. Even with technology, bankers will not be replaced any time soon. Customers still need these services, and a great employee - and bank - can embrace technology and use these tools to make the entire experience better.