OCBC says physical branches relevant as it opens lifestyle banking centre in Orchard Road

The OCBC branch offers a full suite of banking services, alongside retail and dining options, all under one roof. PHOTO: OCBC

SINGAPORE – The physical branch network remains an important channel for OCBC Bank to connect with its customers, according to group CEO Helen Wong, even as digital banking continues to grow.

OCBC is also seeking to redefine banking at its branches with the official opening of its integrated lifestyle and banking centre in Wisma Atria shopping mall, in the heart of Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping belt.

Speaking at the official opening on Friday, Ms Wong said: “While many transactions can be done online, the face-to-face interaction that branches facilitate is invaluable”.

She added that customers want face-to-face advisory for wealth management or complex decisions involving their home mortgages.

For Mr Sunny Quek, OCBC’s head of global consumer financial services, the bank branch is an important touchpoint for customers because “when you face a problem, you can come to the branch and we will fix it for you straight away, instead of you having to deal with chatbots or the contact centre”.

The Wisma outlet is OCBC’s latest branch that has lifestyle elements, following a brand refresh of three other branches with the lifestyle concept this year – Ang Mo Kio Central, Jurong Point and Tampines.

At 20,000 sq ft, it is second in size only to OCBC’s headquarters in the Raffles Place area.

The branch offers a full suite of banking services alongside retail and dining options, including a bookshop, a homeware and lifestyle products store, an art gallery, a cafe and an omakase restaurant, all under one roof.

There are also pods and rooms to facilitate private discussions with customers.

Mr Quek aims to create a retail experience where “banking is not right in your face”, but if a customer needs banking services, he can get help from bank staff anywhere within the branch.

Mr Dallas Goh, 31, was one OCBC customer who popped by to check out the Wisma branch.

He said it is a nice concept with books and a cafe, but for him, a short queue is more important to completing his banking transactions as soon as possible.

Ms Yustina Quek, credit research analyst at financial research firm CreditSights, said this strategy is part of OCBC’s effort to refresh its branding.

“You need not just visit the bank branches because you want to deposit your money or you want to do other banking transactions,” she said.

Ms Quek said, however, that she does not think OCBC will introduce this lifestyle concept to all its branches.

“I see it as the bank creating this kind of concept selectively in some of its branches in key locations,” she added.

The Wisma branch opening comes even as OCBC has closed some branches in recent years.

Today, it has 31 branches and four Frank branches at the university campuses, down from about 49 branches a decade ago.

Frank by OCBC caters to young adults between 18 and 29 years old.

Mr Quek said the bank closes branches only when the footfall is very limited and where there are other branches in the vicinity.

He added that OCBC will have a branch in all the key heartland areas to ensure the bank remains accessible to customers.

“We will rationalise according to the needs, but when opportunity comes, we do want to refresh the concept,” he said.

OCBC said specially designed branches like the one in Wisma will also continue to be built when the need or opportunity arises.

Banks are looking different now as cafes sprout up within branches. To date, however, none has been to the scale of the OCBC Wisma branch.

CreditSights’ Ms Quek said other banks could potentially introduce this kind of lifestyle concept in key branches in the Central Business District or Orchard Road area.

However, she does not see banks bringing this lifestyle concept to all their branches in the heartland malls.

“It is very costly to have such a big branch at an appealing location,” she said. “We want to optimise the value of a branch; maximise the transactions and businesses done in a certain branch versus the cost of maintaining the branch. I do not see this kind of concept as being efficient.”

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