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Banking Branch Models: The Impact Design has on Your Bottom Line and Customer Experience

By Adam James, AIA

July 26, 2021

Financial Institutions (FIs) continue to face unprecedented changes in their industry, shifting from what were large, sprawling branch lobbies with multiple teller windows to some branches today who have decided to do away with tellers altogether and shift to technology instead.

The decisions on how to staff and operationally function a branch today are more diverse and unique than any other time in banking. Whether it’s a renovation, a ground-up, or looking at a new prototype branch – branches today remain very personal, customer service-oriented destinations that are an extension of your institutionbrand, and communities.

Through our experience and discussions with our clients, we’ve developed three branching models we use to start many design conversations with.

The three branching models; TraditionalTransitional, and Universal, all have their place in the world today, and we often see a hybrid of the models or even preparing for one down the road. Each branch model has strengths and weaknesses but, at the core, they need to be able to serve the customers and clients in your community, as well as the mission and vision of your financial institution. Using a similar program with typical spaces of a retail branch today – we can look at how the branch model could change the design of your branch, as well as square footage just based on the model you explore.

Traditional Branch Model

The traditional branch might sound “old-fashioned,” or a thing of the past, but in many communities, the traditional, or transactional branch is important and serves the clients in this area well. The transaction counter or teller line ranges from two to six tellers, can still use technology like cash recyclers, and can even look more modern than the traditional teller line of yesterday, but with the same function – on one side is the teller, and on the other side is the customer.

Support spaces such as work areas and back counters are needed for storage, card, or cash advance machines, as well as the vault and night deposit. Offices, either assigned or flex, are available, as well as dedicated spaces for branch and assistant branch managers. Adjacent to a first impressions welcome desk is a small café and a small waiting area for customers who wish to see someone in a more private setting.

Transitional Branch Model

Similar to the traditional banking model, the transitional model shifts away from the barrier of a teller line to a more open teller line concept. This model helps promote a more personal experience for the customer, where they can come alongside the teller to see things on the screen or discuss items related to their account without having to use a private office. Removing the sides of the traditional teller line, you can also open up the back wall that once was reserved for teller line support. It can now be open, potentially with glass, and be more welcoming to the customers or members. This model, similar to traditional, still requires a queue line and a way to direct transactional traffic, but the branch lobby feels more open.

Workrooms and amount of storage are still required for night vaults and other teller support items but are typically much smaller than the traditional model. Offices, a welcome desk, waiting areas, and small cafes are still needed and used frequently. For customers who are used to the traditional line, this is an easy next step that still functions like a teller line but is often more efficient with technology such as cash recycles that speed up the transactional process.

Universal Branch Model

The Universal banking concept is not new to the industry by any means, but we often see is that it’s the slowest to try and implement. This could be because the core banking software and technology do not allow for it, or the fact that changing to this type of model requires a change in operational training, education, and updating the entire branch network as well – no small task. In short, the transactional teller line or teller pod has been removed and is replaced with customer support stations spread around the branch. These can be cash enabled – sometimes a more central cash station is used by all, but in this model, the customer support staff can handle almost any need the customer might have, from cashing a check to getting a new car loan.

They are trained to handle and solve the customer’s need right there. Because of this model, the footprint of the building can be much more efficient – there is no longer a need for an assistant manager and all of the staff are typically present on the floor. If a customer needs more privacy, the flex offices now can serve that. If there is a larger group, this model allows for a greater conference room instead of a large work area that is no longer needed. The queue line is gone and replaced with a waiting area as customers stand by for the next universal banker to become available.

Universal Branch Model

In Summary

The three branch models discussed have a place and use in today’s banking branch design. There is little doubt the traditional branch type is becoming obsolete as branches become more service-oriented and less transactional, but the shift to a full universal model for many FIs is still not feasible.

The challenge to shift operationally from one banking model to another is no small feat, but a critical decision for leadership to discuss while finding the best decisions for their customers and the experience they want them to have. As the images show, the branch model design changes quite drastically simply from how your branch handles transactions.


In the above example of a similar building program across all models, we were able to remove roughly 750 SF going to a Universal Model instead of a Traditional Model – saving a significant amount of money from a brick and mortar building cost.

Working with an experienced design team who has expertise in FIs, as well as having these early conversations with your leadership team is not only important but critical to the success of your future branch and the customer experience.

Adam James is a Registered Architect and designer for Design Collaborative. See our portfolio of Financial Institutions and please feel free to reach out to discuss more!

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