Key Takeaways from the WBR Future Branches Conference: Strategies for Branch Evolution and Customer Engagement

The WBR Future Branches Conference in Boston on June 24-25 brought together banking industry leaders to discuss innovative strategies for branch evolution, customer engagement, and leveraging technology. Prominent speakers from national and regional banks and credit unions, as well as industry experts and bank executives at various levels, shared insights on transforming branch networks and customer experiences as well as how to stay competitive in a rapidly changing landscape. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the conference:

Ten Key Themes and Strategies Emerged From the Conference

1. Trust and Human Connection:

JPMorgan Chase’s Andrea Principe emphasized the importance of blending digital and physical experiences to deepen customer relationships. The bank plans to open 500 branches and renovate 1,700 over the next five years to create advice-centric branches that build human connections and trust. Training and empowering branch employees is a key objective, focusing on the beliefs, skills and confidence needed to effectively engage with customers. Chase’s One Team approach integrates wealth, small business and credit specialists to meet the diverse needs of customers.

2. Community Engagement:

JPMorgan Chase has dedicated community branches in black and Latino neighborhoods, offering financial education and services to build trust and engagement. Homeowner grants and small business support programs have shown significant positive impact, including a 10% increase in deposits in these communities.

BankFive’s Ann Tangen highlighted the bank’s historical commitment to community roots and the need for modern branch designs to stay relevant. Their approach uses historic community photos, financial education and modern technology to attract and retain customers, resulting in significant deposit growth.

3. Employee Training and Retention:

Several institutions emphasized ongoing training, developing career paths, and leveraging technology for training. Strategies include digital assessments, gamification, and personalized coaching to ensure employees can meet evolving customer needs. Employee engagement is seen as critical to customer satisfaction and retention.

4. Branch Network Evolution:

A show of hands by attendees indicated an increase in branch renovations and new locations. JPMorgan Chase plans to double its branch footprint, focusing on strategic locations that meet community needs. The goal is to have 70% of the population within 10 minutes of a branch. Many financial institutions are modernizing their branches, focusing on advisory services rather than transactions, and leveraging community engagement to drive branch success.

5. Technology and Digital Transformation:

Digital First Strategy: Panelists discussed the integration of digital channels with physical branches. Innovations such as ITMs, AI-driven customer insights, and mobile banking are essential to delivering seamless, personalized banking experiences while reducing transaction costs. Adoption of ITMs to handle routine transactions, free up staff for advisory roles, and reduce costs is growing, as are improvements in software.

6. Financial Education:

A significant number of speakers from all types of institutions emphasized the importance of financial literacy and education, ranging from offering classes to fully integrating it as part of their organization’s purpose. These organizations have focused on providing comprehensive financial education not only to their customers, but also to their employees at all levels of the organization. Programs include workshops, online resources, and one-on-one financial coaching to improve financial wellness and engagement.

7. SME Support:

In addition to a renewed focus on financial education, many institutions have established SME strategies as part of their branch networks. Recognizing SMEs as an important customer segment, these institutions have enhanced their SME offerings with unique strategies, including bundling services, offering specialized financial products, and providing educational seminars to support SME growth and retention.

8. Data and AI Utilization:

The use of AI to analyze customer data for personalized marketing, risk analysis, and branch optimization was a topic of discussion. In addition, many institutions undergoing technology and CRM modernization have emphasized working with vendors to improve data-driven decision-making and operational efficiency. Some institutions are now using AI for real-time customer feedback and personalized service offerings to improve customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. There was some trepidation among participants about using these technologies, with many establishing AI committees to determine the level of integration.

9. Branch Design and Real Estate:

Modern branch designs focus on creating centres of advice rather than transactional spaces, and integrating community-specific elements to enhance local engagement. Factors such as demographics, location, and the competitive landscape are critical to branch planning. Financial institutions have recognized the importance of the branch network in building customer loyalty and providing better financial advice.

10. Increasing Collaboration:

Breaking down silos as part of change management was a major topic of discussion and concern. Many noted that the most effective strategy for breaking down silos is through improved communication and collaboration. In addition, breaking down silos was reported as essential to improving the customer experience and operational efficiency. Universal banking and cross-training of employees are also strategies to address this issue.


The conference underscored the need for financial institutions to continually innovate, focus on customer and community engagement, and leverage technology to stay relevant. Speakers emphasized the importance of exploring different business models to engage with customers through hyper-personalization beyond products, including physical assets. With the advent of AI, many view the emergence of this technology as both an asset for increased efficiency and a potentially disruptive force.

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