Consumer banking is undergoing a process of transformation from a physical to a virtual infrastructure. Where once the retail branch projected the bank's values of permanence and solemnity through the language of monumental architecture, today banks increasingly define and differentiate themselves through the intangible media of advertising, internet, and mobile device applications, and through distributed networks of hybrid physical/digital ATM's. As the media changes, so must the message. The new accessibility of digital banking has shifted financial management towards a position of greater intimacy with the user's daily life-transactions carried out from the kitchen or cafe, every purchase logged and visualized, alerts and notices gently pushed to laptops and pocket devices-and provides an opportunity for banks to transform their role from invisible guardian to active coach and friendly advisor. As part of our 2011 Summer Workshop Series, we brought together a group of architects, designers, and business strategists to chart the future of consumer banking, interrogating the inevitability of its complete "digitization" and exploring the potential for new forms of digital and physical environments to offer mutual value and benefit for customers and banks.
The digitization of the banking industry has resulted in a slow transformation of the physical branch to focus less on transactions (which can now be performed anywhere) and more on the particular set of social needs that can be uniquely addressed in a face-to-face setting. These needs include problem solving, advice and education, as well as new account sales. The workshop raised a number of suggestive strategies for integrating spatial typologies, situated computing interfaces, and service orchestration in order to facilitate and enhance the branch's social mandate. Solutions included design of more intimate and casual conference spaces, introduction of multi-person collaborative computing interfaces, and hybridization with other programmatic typologies (library, cafe, classroom, etc.) that support a position of 'assisted self-learning' through a combination of interpersonal and technology-driven interactions.