Branching Out

Good Bye Main Street, Hello Tablet

The lights are going out in HVB's branches.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s retail banking sector has traditionally been highly personalized, leading to a bloated branch network. Hypovereinsbank is replacing branches with technology to cut costs but critics say customers aren’t ready for the change.

  • Facts


    • Hypovereinsbank is closing 240 of its 580 branches.
    • The Munich-based bank is a subsidiary of Unicredit Bank from Italy.
    • About 20 percent of Germans still do all of their banking at a branch.
  • Audio


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Katrin Hesse is a little nervous about the upcoming ceremony, to which she has invited almost 150 guests. The manager of the Berlin branches of Hypovereinsbank, or HVB, wants to show off to her most important customers the bank’s chic, attractive and newly renovated branch in the Charlottenburg neighborhood.

Ms. Hesse conducts a quick tour of the renovated branch. The ATMs are now in the main room at the front, instead of in a separate vestibule, and there is now someone sitting at a desk who serves as a concierge of sorts, ready to address any questions customers may have.

There is a comfortable seating area in the corner with a coffee machine. Glass cubicles, prepped both for face-to-face and video consultations, are scattered around the branch. The cubicles are surrounded by opaque privacy glass decorated with images of Berlin landmarks, such as the Reichstag. Each has a flatscreen TV.

The design is meant to convey a sense of openness, discretion and proximity to the customer. But it is also part of a risky revolution. The branch is one of the first components of the biggest transformation in the German retail banking sector since the merger of Dresdner Bank and Commerzbank, two leading players, in 2008.

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