Spent time in Washington DC earlier this week at the BAI conference and did a small question and answer session with a number of leading bankers before my main talk on stage. They asked me all sorts of questions, from how best to motivate and manage people, through to why did Virgin get involved in banking in the first place. A few in the room thought it was a very un-Virgin industry to be in - too staid and boring. I explained that's just why we wanted to get into it: our way of doing things can create a real difference for customers and staff.
One of the more thought provoking questions was regarding the role the branch network has in today’s fast-moving world of internet banking and new technology. In the UK we acquired 75 Virgin Money branches with the acquisition of Northern Rock. While many in the room were unsure of the long-term position of the branch or bank, I said I thought it was a key part of our promise to make banking more personal and trusted.
Traditional banks have a transactional in and out model, which does not help create feelings of trust and good communication. We want people to stay, linger and enjoy being part of our club - both customers and community. The Lounges are about building relationships with customers - destinations customers want to spend time in rather than a cold, functional and transactional place you have to go to and can't wait to leave.
I have said before how I took a sledgehammer to the glass screens in our ticket offices at Virgin Trains - as I did not want our customers and staff separated in that way. In our banks you do need security measures for some transactions but there is no reason why the majority of services can't be done face to face, with a human touch.
We have introduced Virgin Money Lounges in Edinburgh, Norwich and Manchester - where you can check your emails, read the paper and have a cup of coffee. We want our customers to feel special and so we have started to look at how we can make these lounges feel more like our airline clubhouses.
That is not to say new technology doesn’t have an important role (quite obviously, as I am blogging about this on LinkedIn!) However, it can be in conjunction with human conversations. While many people do a lot of their banking online, I believe personal interaction has a key place in banking - and business for that matter - today. Getting rid of branches completely would be a back step in the wrong direction. What do you think? Should banking disappear from our high streets? Or can we have the best of both worlds
Take a sledgehammer to conformity