It looks like a US tech giant’s office, complete with its own coffee shop, chic “breakout pods”, the latest biometric technology and an events programme. But it’s actually a new Lloyds Bank branch in Manchester. Welcome to the new world of the bank super branch.
At a time when many high street banks are axing branches at an alarming rate, Lloyds this week opened the doors on its most expensive branch ever – refurbished at a cost of £3m.
Some customers wandering into the Market Street branch, which officially launches next Saturday, will have been bemused to find a cafe alongside cool office spaces and discreet banking counters. Those with a safe deposit box can access it using fingerprint technology.
And it’s not just Lloyds that is updating its branch network. Next month Nationwide will open a flagship branch in the same Manchester street. Again, customers can expect a super-modern design, coffee area and easy, secure access to online banking. Out has gone the utilitarian furniture once beloved of bank branch designers; in has come free wifi and funky armchairs. The building society said further flagship branches would open in Harlow, Wolverhampton, Poole, Watford and London’s Aldgate in the coming months.
Jakob Pfaudler, group director of community banking at Lloyds, says the Manchester outlet is the first of a small number of flagship branches to be opened under the Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland brands. “They will provide a hub in some of the UK’s major cities where customers will find everything they would expect from a bank and much more. We are aiming to set a new standard for high street banking, combining face-to-face expertise with new technology.”
He adds that customers can expect to see anchor branches – existing branches in large towns and cities – and community branches in smaller towns and villages as well as a new micro format. Branches are not a thing of the past, they just need to be reimagined, says Pfaudler.
Both new Manchester branches are set be open for longer than the ones they have replaced: the Lloyds site is open from 8am-7pm on weekdays, compared with the traditional 9am-4pm. They look as though they have been designed in a similar way to technology stores – a place where customers can get information on a raft of other products offered behind the scenes.
The big banks have been closing branches at a rate of 10 a week, and many towns around the UK have been left without a fully functioning branch.The banks insist they are just following their customers, who have moved online in droves. However, this has often forced older customers in particular to have to travel miles to get access to their money or to sign up for internet banking – often against their better wishes.
In the past five years the big five banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest and Santander – have shed more than 2,200 branches, with closures accelerating sharply over the past 24 months. In April, a study by Which? revealed that 482 bank branches were closing this year. Barclays has since said it would close up to another 100 this year.
The cull has left big holes on many high streets. Reuters recently calculated that Britain will be left with about 8,000 bank branches by the end of the year, compared with 17,800 in 1989.
One company bucking this trend is Metro Bank, which two weeks ago opened its 50th branch in Peterborough. Since it opened its first branch in Holborn, central London, in 2010 it has grown rapidly, opening branches across the south-east. It aims to have about 100 branches nationwide by 2020.
Offering account opening within a day, all Metro banks are open from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday and bank holidays - similar hours to supermarkets.