Want a flat white with your overdraft?

Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013
John Selkirk/Fairfax NZ

BANKING ON IT: Banks are trying to win more business with lounges, coffee bars and free Wi-fi. Shown here is the caravan coffee bar set up in Westpac’s Lower Queen St branch in Auckland. The barista is Samantha Smith.

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First they gave us automated voices on the phone, then they ushered us in to cyberspace - now banks are investing in baristas and free wi-fi to draw us back to the "shop".

"Banks a few years ago were formidable places, you would walk in, stand in a queue and everything was behind a barrier or fence," New Zealand Retailers Association northern regional manager Russell Sinclair said.

"Now, like any business, they want to enhance the customer experience. Consumers have many choices to make. It's a competitive industry."

Research shows customers may click on bank websites seven times a month, but are likely to step inside a branch only once a year.

"But you need bricks and clicks now," Sinclair said.

Online shopping is booming in New Zealand and is about to reach annual turnover of $4 billion. But traditional retail still holds sway with the total industry worth $70b in annual turnover.

Technology has broken down old security barriers and now banks are increasingly popping up in shopping malls, minus the water coolers and cordoned queues. Coffee bars, lounge facilities and free wi-fi are increasingly being offered, while what used to be a branch is now a "shop".

Westpac's Lower Queen St store in downtown Auckland underwent a major refurbishment last year, boasting a chic new interior and free internet. There's even a climbable Lego Westpac Rescue Helicopter model for the kids and a coffee caravan complete with barista.

Bank customers pay a discounted $2.90 for a regular coffee, while non-customers pay $3.50. Those meeting with staff usually get one for free.

The makeover was less about attracting new customers, and more about enhancing the experience for existing ones, Westpac properties project manager Andrew Tasker said.

"Every bank is reacting to this in a slightly different way. We've been quite cheeky in creating literal elements to make it fun. Sure, it frees us up to have conversations with customers about how life's going with them and what else they need."

The bank is creating two more signature branches, one in Wellington's Lambton Quay and another in Christchurch.

And it's not just banks sprucing up their spaces.

While customers have long been able to grab a coffee or hot chocolate waiting for vehicle repairs, Pit Stop in New Plymouth has taken things a bit further. Alongside the magazines and TV screen, you can also watch a DVD or use the PlayStation.

"It's for people who have got kids," franchise shareholder Beverley Tee said.

"In the school holidays my kids will use it mostly, but during the week you get younger kids coming in, too, who will play.

"It makes the wait easier. Hopefully it will encourage customers to come back and make them feel at home."

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