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INSIDE TRACK: Disco balls at the bank? Better to focus on service

BROWSING the papers, sipping on free coffee and checking your email on an iPad sounds like the kind of trip to the bank a famous Danish drinks brand might organise.

But rather than something dreamed up by Carlsberg, the scenario described above is a reality for customers of Virgin Money following the recent roll-out of its new lounge concept in Glasgow.

The bank is also throwing in free meeting space, a film screening room and the use of the facilities for local community groups and charities. Did I mention there is a disco ball, kids' activities and a fish tank? It's clearly a bit more fun than your average bank branch.

However, the chances of this concept spreading seem minimal, with most banks more intent on continuing to trim their high street presence. The feeling among the industry appears to be that Virgin is allowed to be a bit different because that is what people expect from the brand. Rivals may also point out that having one new lounge, to add to four older lounges as well as dozens of normal branches, does not a wide-ranging branch network make.

But as customers and consumers, surely we expect our banks to innovate and offer us things a bit different from their rivals? The kind of incentives that might encourage us to actually switch current accounts, savings products and mortgages to get a better deal.

One legacy of the financial crisis has been for many people to become ever more removed from bank branches, whether that is through the growing switch to digital and mobile options or the swathes of branch closures. No-one is under any illusions that the rebuilding of trust between members of the public and the institutions that mind their money will take a long time.

So although branch numbers may be lower, it has been good to see many banks investing in what remains. Any regular visitors to Glasgow's city centre will have seen, and maybe even used, revamped branches from the likes of Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax in recent months. Those are lighter, airier spaces that have generally removed partitions that sectioned off staff from customer and seemed to embody an "us versus them" mentality.

The tearing down of those barriers is one small step in reconnecting people working in the bank to those who cross the threshold to use the bank. Those hard-pressed frontline employees have put up with an awful lot over the past few years without ever trousering the vast bonuses that get all of us so worked up.

Indeed, many banks are now making sure branch staff are no longer rewarded for meeting sales targets, and shifting to models that incentivise service levels.

Although iPads and fish tanks are nice, human interaction is still the most important service bank branches provide to many communities across Scotland and a key way for the industry to repair public confidence.

Let's hope the executives in charge don't forget about that, and give those running the branch networks the people and resources they need.

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