Banking with Ruscio Studio

Financial institutions once occupied the most prestigious and opulent buildings and locations in every city and town. They oozed intimidation, grandeur and wealth. Then, with cities sprawling, bank branches became nameless and faceless boxes. Then it seemed we’d soon have limited physical bank locations, using only banking machines and online banking. 

Now we are starting to see banks that seem to want to talk to us again. It seems that they want to make us feel welcome, actually wanting to appeal to customers once more. This global trend is also true for the National Bank of Canada.

Ruscio Studio’s client was well informed of these trends and came to the Montreal-based company with the following main objectives;

• We want to establish our brand presence in the greater Toronto area (Canada’s financial capital).

• Support for our new slogan which places emphasis on “service.”

• “Educate more; sell less” approach with our customers.

Wanting to establish a stronger market presence as one of Canada’s leading financial institutions, and highlighting one of their primary brand attributes being “service,” a whole new design concept was required. Located in the heart of the Toronto’s financial district and previously home to Reuters Canada, this new space also came with a few unique characteristics. A ticker tape of around 150 square feet and giant media screen of around 120 square feet was an integral part of the space, which were mounted on the exterior façade of the building. The other element was that the 10 000 square feet of of ground-floor space was entirely separated by the building lobby.

Having the area divided into two separate spaces by the building lobby was definitely a big challenge, from an operational point of view and as wanting to create a visual impact. The physical constraint forced the client to rethink their way of operating and leading them to separate the Retail section (counter and teller) from the Advisory section (consultant). 

SOLUTION Creating a color palette that would be bold and striking in contrast with the building lobby and its environments was the key. By using the bank’s corporate colours, such as red and white, and by framing both lobby entrances with a dark wood planking, Ruscio was able to create a visibly high contrast between the common area and the two sides of the institution. Lighting also played a role since both the reception desk and hostess counter’s front custom acrylic panels were entirely back lit, appearing as two beacons from the lobby.   

Another physical challenge was the fact that there were five entry points to the bank: front lobby entrance, side entrance, back entrance, elevators, and escalators from the lower food court. How were we to create and manage an equal customer experience from these various entrances?!

SOLUTION The hostess counter was strategically located so that she had an unobstructed view of the reception area on the other side. With the use of a telephone, they managed to communicate with each other and redirect their customers to the correct starting point. If customers walked in through the side entrance, the hostess was also able to see and greet them the same as customers coming in from the lobby.

If the bank wanted to establish a presence in Toronto, Ruscio needed to make a bold statement; one clear message or clear brand promise. The studio wanted to break away from what we would normally see in a typical setting  they started with a “greeter” to welcome the customer and guide them to the proper area, explain some of the new features in the bank, or simply relieve the customers wait time. A “beverage bar” was introduced where customers can freely serve themselves while waiting or lingering in the lounge area during their break or lunchtime. They can relax sitting comfortably in a hotel setting with a modern fireplace and in lounge seating while viewing the media wall or check up on their stocks using free Wi-Fi. Away with the traditional setting of the pin-striped suit advisor behind an oak desk and in with a more informal approach with a low circular table and banquette type seating. Customers feel less committed with a more casual setting for an initial meeting.

A “Did you know?” unit with screen prints and iPads are also new to the bank, allowing the customer to research a particular topic at their own leisure. One can also have access to the bank’s web tools offering helpful tips and advice on managing money. In keeping with the brand consistency, we thought it was a great way to connect to the web or virtual world within the physical location, iPads can allow customers to access online accounts or be guided online through various products and services. As we turn the corner, we can see the teller area with a more modern way of managing the line up. Seating is also provided as it is incorporated into the customer pre-counter.

The counters have been simplified with no glass partition between customer and teller:

The counters are slightly angled and smoked glass divider panels create a degree of privacy between customers in a relatively open space.

Usually all views into restricted areas are hidden with opaque walls. Here a smoked and reflective glass wall creates a sense of transparency and a modern look.

The media screens feature a mix of short messages, featured products, current promotions, sponsorships, etc.

The bold red carpet was not only part of their corporate colors but also part of a new campaign “rolling out the red carpet” as the bank gives emphasis to “service.” The red carpet was a great way to make a link with this new direction.

When introducing technology in a design concept, the initial cost is minimal to the continual content management costs and commitment that is required by the client. This had to have been very well explained and set up; therefore proper support was established from the beginning.

SOLUTION Part of the solution to selling less and educate more was to be introduced.

The timeframe turned out to be a challenge as well since the bank had to vacate its existing location (one block away) by a given date and the construction schedule was gradually falling behind. The new concept was a success on several levels!

The use of technology to provide the information, rather than having a barrage of p.o.p.s. dangling from everywhere, was a definite way of educating rather than selling. Also, if “less is more.” the new screens help reduce the common visual clutter often found in banks. All the new elements support the idea of providing service to customers, along with a dedicated hostess, as an initial encounter. Comments from the management team were very positive despite taking them out of their conservative comfort zone. Excitement was felt throughout the corporate ladder. The staff was also very pleased with the changes, having an environment which allows them to be less formal and more intimate conversations. Most of all, the customers’ feedback was very positive with a sense of curiosity. The fact that the customer can freely linger in the space is also a novelty which has them telling a friend and creating a buzz on King Street. Some of the floor units with the media screens are already in production and to be placed in some of the other branches.

The fact that the National Bank, in less than three months after opening, is gearing up with a rollout plan to apply this new concept to their other branches is a true sign that their goals were accomplished, and even perhaps exceeded some of their expectations!