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Banks turn to espressos, dancing robots to help keep U.S. branches alive

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Free Wi-Fi, discounted cappuccinos, artwork, and a dancing robot are among the features banks across the United States are touting to convince customers that even in an era of smartphones it is still worth it to visit a bank branch.

Banks are in a bind – branches are costly and keep losing traffic as phone apps take over day-to-day banking, but they need them because that is where customers still get advice, resolve tricky account issues or deal with cash and checks.

To square that circle banks have been trying to drum up more branch business with location upgrades and eye-catching features.

JPMorgan Chase & Co branches, for example, feature local art, Bank of America Corp highlights new technologies at its “technology bars,” and at HSBC Holdings PLC’s Fifth Avenue flagship New York branch a humanoid robot Pepper greets visitors with a wave and a wiggle.

However, wooing more customers with self-service kiosks, touchscreens, consulting zones and modern decor is just the start, consultants and designers say. The challenge is how to turn that into more sales and brand loyalty.

“Innovative designs have proven to be successful in driving additional traffic,” said Brandon Larson, a managing director at financial consultancy Novantas. “The thing people struggle with is, how do they convert that traffic into new deep relationships with the institution?”

In other words, can a cappuccino sell a mortgage?

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