When Capital One launched its first branch café in New York more than 20 years ago, the banking industry didn’t see competitors rushing to the market with their own versions of the coffee shop concept. Instead, it took more than a decade of progress and the undeniable consumer march toward mobile banking for the format to mature into the magnetic gathering spots we know and love today. Now, Capital One is upping the ante again with an investment in cafés that will make them even more appealing to younger Millennials and Gen Z.
The McLean, Virginia-based financial giant is refreshing its network of 50 branch-café locations across 18 states and Washington, DC, enhancing each location with “a new look with menu items targeting younger consumers.” according to Yahoo! Finance reporting on the booming branch café concept. “In recent years the financial giant steadily tweaked and expanded the concept to encompass brightly lit cafés with charging stations, Wi-Fi and plenty of space for people to sit, visit or work in urban and shopping-mall zones with high foot-traffic.” With these new improvements, the ninth largest U.S. bank is increasing its appeal to the next generation of banking consumer.
Even with these new updates, people can still rely on some original Capital One Café benefits to pay back customers and draw in new prospects, alike. Customers will still get 50% off any hand-crafted beverage, a definite perk for people working or meeting in the café. The branch also offers programs like Money & Life, which includes self-guided tools and Meet with a Mentor options to help people stay on track with their financial goals and free community room rentals for students, non-profits and alumni organizations. There are also free virtual and in-person events which Capital One says will “strengthen our communities and the people in them.”
Overall, Capital One has been so successful with its signature café concept, that it did eventually inspire imitators. However, to be fair, these challengers have put their own spin on their cafes, including Santander Bank’s Work Café which launched in Brooklyn in 2020. The Spanish bank describes its concept as more of an “innovation hub” for entrepreneurs, businesspeople and customers who can interact with each other and with technology tools. U.S. Bancorp has also gotten into cafés, with authorization from the City of Scottsdale to include food and beverage in its new branch, but it doesn’t have plans for baristas in the new space.
“I believe what we’re seeing is a more concerted effort to transform bank branches’ purpose,” says Stewart Watterson, strategic analyst with Datos Insights in the Yahoo! Finance article. He says, “Some financial institutions are transforming branches from transaction-processing centers to places where a 20-something would want to hang out, and coffee makes a natural addition.” But it’s more than that, according to Shaun Rowley, director of Capital One Cafés, in the Future Branches blog. “We had a digital bank, and we needed to connect with the communities we serve. These cafés give customers a chance to come in, and experience our brand: see, touch and taste Capital One.” This is a brand experience that still holds true today.
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