In the past, the majority of consumers would make visiting your bank or credit union’s nearest location a part of their daily or weekly errands schedule. Some locations even became a kind of gathering spot for consumers, where they could sit, have a cup of coffee and catch up with each other on the news and events of the times. They deposited and withdrew money, visited with tellers and signed various required documents.

This is a great memory. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. But the fact is – it is just a memory. A geological shift in the way consumers interact with their financial institutions has changed this way of thinking forever. More and more, consumers never come to an actual brick-and-mortar facility. They choose to interact with your bank or credit union in its digital format. This means your website, social media channels, email, etc.

And increasingly, financial institutions are spending less on actual physical locations and more on beefing up their digital mobile presence.

Some in the industry argue that this means branches are caught in a gradual extinction process. Others believe that there is still a place for physical branches, but that they must adapt and find a new way to serve consumers.

I fall in with the latter group. Certainly, branches are changing. But I don’t believe they are dying. Banks and credit unions must look at their branch facilities strategy with new eyes — eyes that view them not so much as branches anymore but as engagement centers.

An engagement center, unlike a traditional branch, is much more than a deposit/withdrawal/sign a few documents facility. Rather, it serves as the physical embodiment of your brand. It is also a location that actively encourages openness and interaction between consumers and your staff. Gone are the days of the traditional teller line and office-with-doors format. Open floor plans, clear lines of sight and attractive, brand-centric architecture and decorations are key.

The next time your executive management team meets to discuss its brand strategy, be the brave soul in the room that stands up for the concept of engagement centers. They lend an air of humanity and personality to your brand while still serving the important functions of a physical facility that justifies its expense.