A home from home – welcome to modern banking

As Intesa Sanpaolo unveils the first of its redesigned branches, Giulia Rhodes learns that queues and desks have been replaced by homely furniture, cultural showcases and a warm welcome

Giulia Rhodes


Step inside one of Intesa Sanpaolo’s newly redesigned branches and you may be surprised. Here are comfortable armchairs, a coffee machine, a large wooden table; this is a bank, but not as you know it.

By the end of 2015, 50 branches across Italy will have been relaunched with this radical new look. The concept will eventually be rolled out to 1,000 medium and large branch offices.
It is, says Claudia Daffunchio, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of territorial planning, the bank’s way of bringing its relationship with clients up-to-date
A three-day launch at Milan’s Piazza Cordusio branch recently gave a taste of what this might mean. A presentation of Francesco Hayez’s celebrated 1859 painting, The Kiss; a workshop on business start-ups; a third-sector debate on women and work, and a talk on digital culture all featured.
“The idea is truly to create a hub of the local economy. The bank as part of the community is the future,” says Daffunchio.

“Computers provide everyday banking so we want our branches to offer something more.”

Helping Intesa Sanpaolo redefine the role of its branches in the digital age and give them even more value over time has been a welcome challenge for Mario Costantini, the company’s head of acceleration and innovation, and his team.

But this is not simply a makeover.

The key to truly innovative banking is relationships, he says. “We will always offer the best but we also want to be the bank where personal expression is central. People are the bank’s future.”
The first step was to ask clients what they wanted. “We took them away from their traditional idea of a bank and had them telling us stories which had nothing to do with banking and everything to do with life,” he says. “We were able to determine the values we wanted.”

Staff members are no longer separated from clients by tills and walls.

Staff members use a flexible, open co-working space, joining clients around the central table or in private rooms as needed. Clients are welcomed at a reception desk – through which meetings can be arranged if requested – then helped to use the branch as they wish. “They can share ideas, get to know each other. It becomes a place where the results can be more than the sum of their parts. We want to facilitate entrepreneurship,” explains Costantini. “Staff, clients, partners can meet, shake hands, sit together round a table and create something.”
Roberto Battaglia, head of innovation, culture and development, has found visiting the newly-designed branches hugely satisfying. “Our clients have taken them on in ways we had not envisaged, made them their own,” he says.
This real investment in what Battaglia terms “customer journeys” – the bank’s relationship with the client while they are in the branch, but also in their life beyond – is vital to driving more people into the branch and building relationships with them.

“We want them to come in and read the newspapers, see our staff at work, then maybe in the evening pop in for a food tasting or a community meeting.”

The desire to adapt, a constant curiosity about the world and this renewed focus on relationships will help the bank meet the challenges of a future in which many of its traditional roles have been usurped by technology.
“The economy is changing. At one time the bank was rather like a temple. Now it has to be more of a home,” adds Battaglia.
That idea was crucial for Luca Tedesi, head of real estate and logistics. He says: “For the launch of the first branch we asked for the furniture designer Lago’s contribution, in order to make the notion of welcome and feeling at home more real.”

Daniele Lago, chief executive of Lago and a furniture designer, created a beautiful, central wooden table.

“It creates empathy, trust and dialogue,” he says. “We are communicating that we are all at the same level. It is personal.”

In using light, high-quality but simple materials, Lago hopes to challenge the traditional notion of banks as dark, stuffy places. “The branches feel more inclusive. They are relevant to people. Our physical spaces should make us feel better.”
Mr Tedesi says this notion of welcome ¬– and reflecting home – is what makes Intesa Sanpaolo’s new branches unique.
“We have interpreted the need for modernity very differently with a familiar, domestic feel,” he says. “The space is comfortable, relaxing, flexible and easy to use so that the client feels at ease and understands they are at the centre of our work.”
Proof that this aim has been met has come from many early visitors to the new branches. “They have told us they don’t feel as if they are in a bank,” says Tedesi.

“They feel at home. That is success.”

Related stories.