September 21, 2012

At StellarOne Bank, the future is now.

The Charlottesville, Va.-based bank with about $3 billion in assets recently embarked on a plan to modernize its branches by pursuing efficiency, convenience and sleekness.

Joe Jordan, director of e-channels and payments products at StellarOne, says that about a year ago, the bank formed a "branch of the future committee" to discuss ways it can be better equipped to cater to the changing dynamics of the bank-customer relationship.

"You would walk into one of our existing branches at that time, and it's 3-5,000-square feet, there's 6-8 teller lines, offices and a huge lobby," he says. "It is very impressive, but there's an ongoing reduction in branch transactions, so it was clear we needed to do something different."

To accomplish this, the bank heard proposals from five consulting groups as potential partners in designing these new branches, before eventually settling on Consultants & Builders Inc. of Atlanta, a financial services-specific design firm.

The bank then opened its initial "branch of the future" in a 660-square foot building, and later gutted and redesigned two existing branches that were about 1,700 square feet into what Jordan describes as a "revolutionary" design.

Instead of traditional teller lines, the branches feature "pods," which Jordan describes as bean-shaped desks. They are manned by employees who can do more than traditional tellers, whom Jordan likens to specialists.

"They can do anything you can do in a branch manager's office," he notes, in addition to performing normal teller functions.

The branches also feature digital signage, and a wall that has a tube system similar to what customers see in the drive-through part of bank branches currently. Customers can conduct basic transactions through the tubes, which are fed to a back office and retrieved and processed by employees situated there. Jordan says workers at these new branches rotate between back office, manning the pods and other functions during a normal work day, so as not to get "burnt out" on any one task.