Chelsea Groton reinvents bank branch
Groton — Chelsea Groton Bank has reinvented branch banking in the region with the completion of a major renovation at its Center Groton location.
Bank President Michael Rauh, just before the branch's official ribbon-cutting reopening Tuesday, said he and his team scoured the country to come up with ideas to get more people using local bank branches. Nationwide, bank branch visits have been cut in half over the past 20 years.
"Technology has evolved," he said. "The majority of transactions are being done electronically."
Yet, while other banks have responded to a drop in traffic by closing branches or downsizing them, Rauh said customers still like the idea of having a location for banking nearby, usually within a three- to five-mile radius. So instead of giving up on branches, Rauh decided to double down.
The result is a gleaming, light-filled, newly renovated space in a small shopping plaza at 1319 Gold Star Highway that looks very homey and includes spaces that appear to be a kitchen, den and living room.
"We wanted to reinvent the branch as a place where you can learn," Rauh said.
So Chelsea Groton is offering free financial programs at a branch "knowledge bar" taught by Miria Toth, the bank's community education specialist, as well as Kristen Scott, customer solutions manager, and other employees with specific expertise. Topics will include financial wellness, first-time homebuying, business banking, retirement and other issues. (For a class schedule, visit www.chelseagroton.com/reinvention.)
The branch also includes a lending library of financial-literacy books, a cushy booth for informal conversations, "collaboration tables" for interacting with employees to learn, for instance, how to set up automatic payments, and a video conferencing room that allows associates from other branches to get in on conversations with customers.
The idea, Rauh said, is for customers to come into the branch and get answers to virtually any financial question in a fun, cozy and interesting environment. Success, he said, will be measured the old-fashioned way: whether the more attractive and stimulating environment generates more checking and savings accounts as well as additional lending numbers.
"It's an experiment," Rauh said. "It's like a living laboratory."
The renovated branch, reconfigured within its original footprint, took about three and half months to complete, with employees withstanding all the comings and goings of workmen. David Preka of Advanced Improvements in Mystic was in charge of renovations, while design work was done by Little, an architectural firm out of Charlotte, N.C., noted for its work in the retail industry.
Rauh said he soon realized, on a tour of New York City flagship branches, that many of the new ideas he would ultimately tap into would have to be found outside of the banking industry.
That's because, despite the major banks' best efforts to reimagine their branches, "There was still nobody in there," he said.
Instead, he turned to Apple, AT&T and William Sonoma stores as examples of interacting with customers. He noted that half of Apple stores are devoted to showing customers how a product works before they buy, and the other half, the "genius bar," involved getting people to effectively use an Apple device.
He didn't see any reason why the same couldn't apply to financial products. And if the new branch works, he doesn't see any reason why some of Chelsea Groton's other offshoots couldn't incorporate many of the same ideas.
"The reaction from customers has just been terrific," he added.
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