The Customer Effect

What a scrappy Oklahoma bank can teach the industry about branch strategy

  • Citizens Bank of Edmond, a one-branch bank in Oklahoma, is turning its excess branch and office space into co-working space for business customers and bringing 24/7 cash exchange to them
  • Since individual consumers can do so many in-branch functions on their phones or computers, there’s a lot of potential for banks to refocus these spaces on small business customers
What a scrappy Oklahoma bank can teach the industry about branch strategy

Citizens Bank of Edmond is trying to get closer to small business customers by providing space, guidance and almost anything else they might need — besides, of course, a loan.

The one-branch community bank in Edmond, Oklahoma once had another branch, 12,000 square feet located one block away from the main space, with a drive-thru window and some executive offices. But recently the bank decided to consolidate it into a single location and has now turned it into a “business social” co-working environment, called Vault 405, for its small business customers that includes wireless charging stations, conference rooms and a podcast studio.

It’s similar to the way Barclays’ Rise accelerator provides a co-working space for its startups, but Citizens also sees it differently.

“The difference is as that as a community banker I’m also a small business owner,” said CEO Jill Castilla. “So when I’m talking and collaborating with them in this incubator type of space we’re not just talking about what’s good for them, we’re talking about challenges we have in our small business and how we address them… The office space will be just as beneficial to the bank beyond loans and depots, it’ll make us a better small business.”

Recycling old branches
Castilla and her team saw an opportunity to turn a liability it didn’t know what to do about into an earning asset and, she hopes, make people see Citizens as more than just a funder. Ideally, by creating an environment that would bring customer and community relationship returns, as well as grow deposits and loan volume. Citizens currently charges monthly rates between $400 and $1,000 for offices and $175 to $275 for desks and shared spaces. It also offers day passes.

“Because we’re having success at the entry or mid-size business level, as those businesses becomes more successful it will create more opportunity for the bank,” she said. “We’re getting the front row seat in their adventure rather than just being the one they come to when they have a need.”

Vault 405 is run by Marla Lance, Citizens’ community manager, who’s also a former teller and operations specialist for the bank.

Citizens has been ahead of its time before, under Castilla’s leadership. Castilla realized early, around 2009, that social media presented an opportunity to build relationships with customer and grow engagement. Under her leadership the bank replaced many former branches with video teller machines and its mobile payment and deposit products are on a par with the biggest U.S. banks.

Despite the fact that some U.S. banks are consolidating branches and enhancing remaining ones, they still tend to be transactional centers instead of places to connect emotionally with customers — the one thing banks lose out on when competing for the customer relationship. And since individual consumers can do so many in-branch functions on their phones or computers, there’s a lot of potential for banks to refocus these spaces on small business customers.

Providing meeting space for small business owners is one way to begin that, Michael D’Esopo, director of brand strategy at Lippincott, suggested in a recent interview with Tearsheet.

“There are things where there’s greater complexity than straight transaction processing,” he said; like additional information required to sign up for a business checking account, or whether to apply for a small business or personal loan to finance a small company. “There are different ways the branch can become an extension of small businesses and a way for them to engage with their customers.”

Making business banking 24/7
Citizens is also addressing cash pickups for small business customers, one of the most compelling cases for banks thinking of repurposing their branches, using as much readily available technology as possible. Citizens is a small bank that doesn’t have the budget to keep up with its own innovations.

“It’s a hodgepodge of different technologies,” Castilla said. “We have to be scrappy. There’s vending technology we can redeploy in a way that would work for a customer. For example, we initially looked at a cigarette dispenser to see if we could convert it to a coin dispenser.”

Citizens developed relationships with many Oklahoma City merchants, many of whom became interested in taking their businesses to Citizens, Castilla said. However, being located in a distant suburb isn’t conducive to small businesses with cash intensive operations — like bars, coffee shops and restaurants — they realized.

Eventually the bank placed a small space opposite a coffee shop in Oklahoma City that’s “organically evolved into this high-tech unmanned little hub,” that it’s unofficially calling the Unbank Hub. The space provides round-the-clock access to small business customers that want to exchange large bills for smaller ones, get coin rolls, and make large deposits and withdrawals of cash — in the middle of the night if they need to. It’s just one part of Citizens’ plan to become a fully digital community bank.

“We have to provide technology that is not only the best the industry offers, but go above and beyond to find creative ways to address customer needs and even anticipate what those needs will be.”

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