How Virgin Money Is Reinventing Its Branches as Community "Money Lounges"
When is a branch not a branch? When it's a bowling alley, of course. It might sound too extraordinary to be true, but the UK's Virgin Money has totally reinvented the branch concept, turning its Virgin Money Lounges into community locations where customers can go to relax, unwind, and even work on their arm swing.
Virgin Money is one of the UK's fastest-growing challenger banks, offering customers a full-range of banking services - current accounts, mortgages, credit cards, insurance, savings, investments - to millions of customers. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But as the rise of mobile banking renders traditional branches increasingly irrelevant, Virgin Money Lounges offer a completely unique banking experience that absolutely differentiates the brand, and keeps customers coming back through the door.
The Sheffield Virgin Money Lounge
Take the Sheffield Lounge, for example. Spread over three floors, the Lounge presents a games area with two full-size ten-pin bowling lanes, table football, air hockey, a pool table, and children's playroom - and that's just on the ground floor. Upstairs, there's a quieter area featuring a library, bar - serving complimentary soft drinks and refreshments - a specially-commissioned steel sculpture from famed local artist Anita Bowerman, tweed sofas, and plenty of plug sockets to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a recharge.
There are iPads and iMacs. A cafe with diner-style booths. A cinema. TVs. Games consoles. Free Wi-Fi. Newspapers. Magazines. And private meeting rooms that can be booked out.
Virgin Money customers can come into the Sheffield Lounge and use any of these facilities for free - though Virgin Money wants to give something back to the communities and charities of Sheffield, so asks for a voluntary donation to a local charity when booking a bowling lane or games area for a party.
(Video source: youtube.com)
Customers can do their personal banking, too, of course. There are dedicated areas where people can do some online banking or service their Virgin Money products, and "Lounge Hosts" are on-hand to assist customers with their finances.
"Our Sheffield Lounge is much more than just a bank - it's a place where community and charity groups can meet to work on their plans for the local area," said Virgin Money Chief Executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia when the branch launched in 2016. "We've built a games room because we wanted to create somewhere people could come together and enjoy each other's company. It's time for a better kind of bank and Virgin Money and Sheffield's new Lounge are here to deliver that."
(Image source: uk.virginmoney.com)
Havens on the High Street
Other banking providers in the US have taken a similar approach. Capital One's "Coffee-shop Banks", for instance, are designed first and foremost as cafes, where customers can go to enjoy a cup of joe while they discuss their personal finances with an iPad-wielding advisor. Umpqua Bank is another example - offering free yoga classes, snacks, and movie nights for kids, Umpqua branches (or "stores", as the company prefers to call them) are reimagined as community centers, where customers can hang out and make use of the meeting rooms for business projects.
But the Virgin Money Lounges - eight in all - are something different entirely. The emphasis lies heavily on relaxation and entertainment, with personal banking a very distant second. They are, quite literally, fun for the whole family.
It's a unique concept, to say the least - but one that's hugely valuable. For starters, the Virgin Money Lounges have attracted much media publicity. Then there's the actual draw of the locations. Customers want to spend time in a Virgin Money Lounge - how many banks can say that about their branches? Getting people through the door for face-to-face interactions is imperative for building long-lasting relationships with customers, and the free luxuries on offer create genuine enthusiasm for the brand, ensure repeat visits, and build loyalty at every turn.
Virgin Money says its Lounges cost around PS750,000 (nearly $1 million) to set up, and about half that again in annual running costs.
Brand New Lounge in Cardiff
At a time when banks are closing branches at the fastest pace in decades, Virgin Money is becoming more relevant on the high street than ever before. In June 2018, the eighth Virgin Money Lounge opened in Cardiff, Wales, featuring numerous community rooms, a book wall, a stage, and a jukebox. The Lounge will host exclusive entertainment events including open mic nights, expert business talks, lifestyle and travel art shows, book launches, music recitals, and more besides. Like all Virgin Money Lounges, the new Cardiff location will also have longer opening hours than competing high street banks to include early evenings, Saturdays and Sundays.
"We are delighted to open our eighth Virgin Money Lounge in Cardiff," said Gadhia. "As well as being a fantastic space for our customers, our Lounges in other cities have proved to be a huge hit with local charities and communities. We look forward to hearing about all of the exciting initiatives they have planned for Cardiff and the surrounding area."
Branch strategies are set to be a hot topic at Future Branches 2018, taking place this December at the Hilton Austin, Austin, TX.
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