The Ultimate Guide to Bank Design

Chapter 1: Introduction

Introducing Key Concepts of Bank Design

When it comes to designing a bank, those beginning steps of getting a new bank project off of the ground can be the most daunting. With so much possibility, it’s easy to find yourself stuck. 

As specialists in bank architecture, we’ve partnered with thousands of financial institution owners and managers to help them execute their vision. And over time, a lot has changed—something those of you still operating branches with layouts from decades ago certainly understand. But the truth of the matter is this: even more has stayed the same. 

People visit banks for many of the same reasons they did decades ago. To manage their finances, secure loans and plan their financial futures. Now, the strategies and technologies we use have evolved, but the people and their needs really haven’t. 

Still, there are banks and branches out in the world today that are wildly successful, others that are just getting by and still some that find themselves below the line, month after month.

it's enough to make you wonder, what makes a successful bank?

Well first, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. A successful bank branch is made up of a combination of ideas, intentions and efforts that all work together in harmony. 

We’ve identified six key concepts that come together to influence the overall success of a bank branch: 

  • Image and Design
  • Customer Demographics
  • Location
  • Interior Space
  • Exterior Space
  • Functionality

Each of these concepts is covered on this page—if one is of particular interest, you can jump to that chapter by using the sidebar to navigate chapters. 

By understanding these concepts and how you can apply them to your bank project, you’ll have a more complete picture of the best branch for you. 

But remember, one of the most important ingredients is your vision. 

As you navigate these chapters, we’ll introduce each concept and invite you to apply it to your unique vision. 

We've created a printable workbook that includes exploratory prompts and questions related to each concept. If this interests you, download a copy of The Ultimate Workbook for Designing a Bank. It’s free, and we may be biased, but it’s also quite a bit of fun. 

Whether you follow this page, the workbook or both, you will gain a more detailed understanding of what success looks like for your bank. 

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun with it.

architect assisting employee

Chapter 2: Image and Design

Designing Your Bank’s Public Image

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a bank’s image. From small-town banks to larger metropolitan branches, financial institutions provide a sort of community identity for their patrons. 

Determining a theme and designing a bank around it adds continuity and consistency to the customer experience, and while customers might not know exactly how a bank’s image is influencing their experience, they will be able to feel it. 

Things like culture, community and history can be designed into a bank from the very beginning. And doing so can not only elevate your bank’s public image, but it can bolster its relevance within small-town community culture. 

What is a Community Bank?

A community bank is a financial institution that primarily serves a small geographic area. Community banks are locally owned and operated, as opposed to belonging to a large bank corporation.

culture word cloud

Community Identity and First Impressions

The overall image and design of a bank branch is a representation of your image, culture and values. Yes, it’s the first impression you give to new and potential customers, and it’s part of the ongoing experience you provide year-over-year. 

A community bank’s image also speaks to employees and has an impact on recruitment efforts. 

Combining Culture and Bank Identity

When someone comes to your branch for an interview, they’re going to assess your overall image as they determine whether or not this is the right fit for them. Better yet, a branch’s design can attract future customers and employees who identify with the image you’ve put forward. 

When a branch displays themselves for their community to see, it catches the eye of individuals who align with their mission and vision. Banks designed around a common theme excel in a lot of ways, and understanding more about the image you want to put forward can become the foundation from which you make future decisions.

customer demographics

Chapter 3: Customer Demographics

Using Customer Demographics in Bank Design

Understanding your customer base is a game-changing advantage in today’s competitive financial market. People from different generations bank differently. People with different socioeconomic statuses bank differently. People from different neighborhoods bank differently. And in an ideal scenario, all of these differences would influence your bank project. 

Generational Banking

When you look at baby boomers versus millennials, for example, you’ll find their approach to meeting their financial needs can be quite different. Not only are they at vastly different life stages, but they also carry different sets of values. 

The things various demographics expect from a financial institution and the ways they interact with technology are different, but at the core, most are looking for a trusting, consultative experience. 

For example, the majority of people want to talk face-to-face with a banker and receive one-on-one guidance when they need a loan. But whether or not that face-to-face interaction happens across a desk or through a screen will likely have more to do with the demographics of your target customers. That’s the benefit that can come from understanding the generational banking trends. 

Attracting Bank Customers Through Design

As you look into the various demographics your bank is meant to serve, it will uncover what types of experiential—and technological—offerings to include in your design. 

Keeping your customers, and their demographics, in mind as you design your bank will help ensure your design is attracting the bank customers you’re after. When you understand what they expect and need from their financial institution, you can build those services and experiences right into the design of your branch.


Chapter 4: Location

The Importance of Bank Locations

Too many banks have been—and are still being—built in the wrong locations. Unlike a lot of the other concepts in this guide, which are made up of many smaller decisions, choosing a bank building location is a single decision that carries a lot of weight. 

Choosing Where to Build a Bank

At the end of the day, banks that are conveniently located are going to have customer foot traffic, and banks that aren’t conveniently located won’t. In other words, branches built in a bad location can easily fail, but on the other hand, banks built in a great location are set up for success. 

And despite what online-only banks would have you believe, brick-and-mortar banking is nowhere near being on its way out. In fact, it’s just the opposite. 

Customers crave the connection that comes along with in-person banking, and the branches that provide that experience are going to be more successful. 

Does Bank Location Really Matter that Much?

Yes it does. 

So how do you know a location is right for your branch? 

Some business banks say, “It doesn’t matter where their building is located, because our commercial lenders go out to sell.” Ok, but are you sure about that? Let’s say you build your bank in the middle of a cornfield and charge your lenders to go out and sell. How much would the location of your bank matter then? 

Now, if we positioned your bank on a highly traveled road, your lenders will still go out and sell, but now they get a little help, by having thousands of people drive by your building every day. 

This may seem like an oversimplified analogy, but there are some locations in towns and cities that in terms of prospective bank locations might as well be the middle of a cornfield. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. Luckily, there is a science behind site selection.

location word cloud

The Science of Site Selection

Instead of leaving bank location selection up to chance, consider following a mathematical model that statistically determines the best possible location for a new branch. By analyzing factors like distance from relevant businesses, accessibility, signals of economic growth and more, you can give your next bank location the best possible shot at being successful. 

At the end of the day, following the science of where to build a bank will provide you with a strong grasp on your intended location’s best (and unfavorable) attributes.

interior space

Chapter 5: Interior Space

Understanding Bank Interior Design

Bank interiors carry a lot of responsibility. Today’s customers are looking for convenient and overall positive experiences, and they’re going to build relationships with institutions that provide those things. 

Designing a Welcoming Bank Interior

There are many steps you can take to ensure your bank interior design presents a welcoming and inviting feeling to new and existing customers. Here are a few examples of how bank lobby design can support a great customer experience: 

  • Provide more open and flexible meeting areas.
  • Introduce a concierge station or pod concept in your branches. 
  • Install living room atmospheres that encourage your customers to stay longer. 
  • Provide a full-service coffee bar along with technology hotspots and WiFi. 
  • Provide interactive technology and merchandising to entice the customer to stay longer. 
  • Co-brand with another retail or professional service to increase foot traffic to your branch. 
  • Install a high-quality sound system to delight customers on every visit. 

These are the types of features modern bank interiors offer. They are the type of features that help customers feel welcome. And they are the features that keep customers coming back. 

While all of these options might not be exactly right for you and your bank, they all share a common goal of transforming branches from being transaction-focused to customer-experience focused. 

Modern Bank Interiors Attract Talent Too

Including assets like those listed above have a secondary benefit of enabling you to hire more qualified staff who can do more than smile and process a transaction. 

Overall, providing personal touches and experiences for your customers will keep them coming back to you to be their trusted financial advisor. 

And don’t forget, your interior space involves employee-only areas as well. Sure, the typical customer will never see your operation offices, on-site data center or employee break room, but these areas are so important to your culture and your overall image.


Chapter 6: Functionality

Technology and Banking Functionality

When it comes to providing a great customer experience, functionality has a massive impact. Think of it this way: when a customer takes the time to come into your branch, every second you have their presence is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship they have with your bank. 

When the goal is building and strengthening the relationship with your customers, the banking experience is the first place to focus.

Remember, it’s the experience that gives people the motivation to come back. And you can support their experience through designing your bank’s functionality. 

Understanding Technology and Banking

First, realize that simply inserting the latest innovative banking technology trends into your bank and hoping they will work is not a winning strategy. Instead, take the time to understand how they can be a benefit to your customers and what changes are required to make them successful. 

Banking technology can enable customers to complete their own transactions by making certain resources accessible, like:

  • ITMs and full-function ATMs
  • Self-service coin counters
  • Tech islands 
  • Deposit automation 
  • Cash recyclers 

Technology is important and is a huge part of the financial experience. Recent advancements have helped the banking world to expand and become more efficient. But remember, functionality doesn’t just have to do with technology enhancements. 

Promoting Bank Functionality Through Design

Promoting functionality can be as simple as changing how your staff interacts with your customers. It can include things like reducing the number of teller stations or providing additional services outside of the normal consumer and business lending, such as financial planning and advising. 

Given the right tools, resources and training, your branch and staff can engage with customers to provide the services they want and need. This will instill in your customers a level of trust and confidence that can build life-long relationships.

exterior space

Chapter 7: Exterior Space

Designing an Attractive Bank Exterior

In actuality, a bank’s exterior space deserves just as much time and attention as the interior. Yes, they serve different functions, but financial institutions need to start thinking differently to maintain and attract new clients. Branches need to be convenient for customers, inside and out. 

A Look at Bank Landscape Design

Convenience is the number one reason people bank where they bank. 

The traditional idea that if you build it they will come is long gone. The new approach is about being proactive and adapting to the changing environment.

And inviting bank landscape designs are going to welcome more new and prospective customers as well as retain existing ones. 


Consider Signage and Visibility

When it comes to the building, how you orientate the main entrance in relation to its surroundings has a significant impact on branch success. Additionally, details like signage and messaging must be visible, memorable and representative of your image. 

The old days of banks being a destination for community members have changed. Now, the draw for customers has more to do with convenience and visibility. The type and positioning of signage has a massive impact on a bank’s ability to attract new customers, and on the flipside, a lack of bank visibility is a throughline many recent bank branch closings have had in common. 

The positioning of the drive-up, ATMs and ITMs is important—they need to be visible from the main road. Relationship banking has become the delivery channel to building and maintaining your customer base, and that includes your exterior space. 

Drive-through teller lines require attention to customer flow, spacing, technology placement and more.

project gallery

Chapter 8: Conclusion

Next Steps for Your Bank Design Process

While the concepts covered are essential to any financial project—be it a new build, remodel or tenant improvement—these concepts may have left you wondering one thing:

Where do we go from here?

Well, you’ve got options. 

To continue exploring the concepts covered here today, please download a copy of The Ultimate Workbook for Designing a Bank. It offers an interactive experience that will help you expand and define your unique vision. 

Visit our project gallery to view completed financial projects. In addition to stunning imagery, they include stories of our clients’ challenges and the solutions we helped them to find. 

If you’re wondering how much it costs to start a bank, we covered the topic in length here. There’s even a helpful visual for understanding the costs associated with different parts of building a bank. 

And last, but certainly not least, if you’re interested in discussing the specifics of your upcoming project, please get in touch with our financial experts.

Successful branches start here. Talk to a Financial Architect