In my 30-year career working on retail bank projects, bank design has radically changed. Gone are the days of the grand, marbled lobbies, which were intimidating and impersonal. The trendy high-tech aesthetic that followed the grandiose is now falling by the wayside as well. It seems there is some tension between the old vault look, which represents stability, even if it a bit impersonal and the hyper-modern retail experience which doesn’t inspire confidence in depositors. Many banks have returned to intimate spaces, with a more a more residential ambiance in an effort to make customers feel “at home” and secure. Some banks have done away with the teller line all together, using desks or sit-down teller counters in order to remove the barrier between customer and teller.

The design of bank branches has evolved mostly because of technological drivers. ATM’s, Teller Cash Dispensers/Receivers, and outsourcing are a few of the innovations that affected design. Technology has allowed more flexibility in the floor plan layout as well. For example, a line of sight from the tellers to the vault is no longer necessary, because tellers now have small monitors in the corner of their computer screens with a view of the vault. The rise of online banking and apps has significantly reduced foot traffic and face-to-face interaction for customers and banks. Toward the goal of efficiency, the number of security devices has also dramatically increased. Examples include cameras, geometric hand-readers and electronic card readers.

These varied technology-driven solutions that increase productivity have unfortunately distanced the bank from their customers over the past decade, most notably with the big banks, allowing for many smaller community banks with a more personal touch to open their doors and thrive for much of the decade.

Bank of America spent millions of dollars on behavioral studies before rolling out a new prototype branch layout across the U.S. a few years back. I worked on the roll-out and was privy to their approach. The new prototype branch was about 3,500 square feet, much smaller than BofA’s older branches which were about 10,000 square feet. The customer walked in, and within 10 feet of the entry, was greeted by a greeter who was positioned at a host station. Straight ahead was a media wall and seating area, and to the left were 4 tellers. Customers waiting in line could see the TV on the media wall to distract them from the fact they were waiting in line. To the right, were “universal conference rooms” which could be used for meetings or offices by anyone instead of having dedicated offices. And in the far back right, was the vault, directly off the main lobby which is something that wasn’t typically done in banks previously. The vault was always behind the teller line for security reasons. This was possible due to using a geometric hand reader which offered the security needed. Large companies like BofA that are investing millions in numerous locations understand that architecture affects a customer’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings about a brand.