America’s Biggest Banks Transform with Community-Centered, Revamped Branches

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Imagine walking into your bank just as you might stroll into a Starbucks or Sephora, the ambiance relaxed and welcoming, the environment designed for comfort and community. This is rapidly becoming the new reality as America’s biggest banks dramatically transform the physical landscape of their branches, investing hundreds of millions into revamping old sites or constructing entirely new ones. Gone are the intimidating marble facades of the past and the dull, uniform branches of yesteryears tucked away in suburban malls.

The fresh wave of bank branches boasts larger, airier spaces, consciously designed to put you at ease as you grapple with complex financial decisions. Many are ingeniously crafted as community centers, providing local nonprofits and community representatives with a platform for workshops or seminars aimed at serving customers and neighbors.

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“We’re creating these spaces so everyone can feel welcome,” reveals Diedra Porché, the head of community and business development of consumer banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Porché supervises a team of 150, working at what JPMorgan now dubs its “community centers”. These spacious branches feature areas for nonprofits to deliver presentations and conduct workshops for the local populace. The newest of these centers were inaugurated in The Bronx in April, with high-profile attendees including state and local politicians and JPMorgan Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon.

JPMorgan is by no means the only bank making this transformative switch, focusing less on sales and more on providing valuable advice. Capital One’s latest “café” at Union Square, opened in May, takes this concept one step further, featuring coffee, pastries, and a space for anyone, customer or not, to sit, work, and connect with others.

In the not so distant past, banks had been shuttering their branches, particularly post the 2008 financial crisis. But as Jennifer Windbeck, head of Capital One’s retail bank channels and operations, explains, “Banking shouldn’t be that experience of someone sitting in a suit behind a desk talking about your loan application.” Thus, the industry is seeking to transform that experience, and despite the rise of digital banking, there is a prevailing belief that physical branches remain a necessity, especially for bigger financial undertakings, like home or car purchases, or planning for life events.

So resurgent is the importance of bank branches that banks are even constructing in unique locations, and paying keen attention to connecting with the heart of the community they serve. This attention to detail and design is evident in Bank of America’s appointment of Rebekah Sigfrids, from Sephora and Victoria’s Secret, as its first in-house branch designer.

“We’re now really thinking ‘how do we fit this branch into the community?’” says Sigfrids, whose transformative touch is evident in a Bank of America branch in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Once a sculptor’s studio, the vibrant branch now features art by the previous occupant, and additional works from local artists.

JPMorgan Chase has so far opened nearly 20 of its ‘community centers’ in low and moderate income neighborhoods. These centers go beyond traditional banking; they provide resources for financial education for the community, fostering a sense of trust and understanding. “These (new branches) should be an anchor for the community,” Porché says.

Indeed, these revamped bank branches perfectly mirror a revamped approach to banking – one that is welcoming, comfortable, informative, and deeply integrated with the community it serves.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.