Main Street Focus

Philadelphia bank opens knowledge centers

By Carol Patton

They don’t look or function like a typical community bank branch or retail center.

The two new 2,700-square-foot branches that Beneficial Bank in Philadelphia opened this past spring look and feel like modern community libraries. The branches, which the bank calls “campuses,” support the bank’s new branding efforts as a financial knowledge provider as much as a financial services provider.

“We believe we are an education company,” explains Joanne Ryder, executive vice president, director of brand and strategy at Beneficial Bank, a $5 billion-asset community bank with about 850 employees at 60 branches throughout Philadelphia and the adjacent Delaware Valley. “We wanted to create a learning hub for people where they could go in and actually learn more about their financial situation, not just open a checking account.”

Ryder describes the environment within the retail centers in the suburban communities of Devon and Springfield as part community coffeehouse gathering spot, part public library and part traditional retail banking hub. There, customers can read hundreds of financial books or eReaders in comfy lounge chairs while sipping free coffee. Many log on to their personal computers to do research over free Wi-Fi networks, or use one of several tablets available at iPad stations. Another option is stopping by to attend weekly on-site workshops on topics like career planning, saving for college or social media marketing strategies for small businesses.

On any given day, children also might be there playing games or reading books about money management in an area dubbed a Little Learner’s Corner. Their parents will be nearby, perhaps sitting in an enclosed booth to engage in quiet conversation with their personal community banker.

And, of course, Beneficial Bank customer service representatives are always walking around, ready to help customers with any question or need.

Moreover, the bank is paying close attention to the services requested and provided to each branch to respond to the particular needs of the people using each location. The Springfield branch supports a more blue-collar community while the Devon branch caters to more white-collar professionals, Ryder says. So perhaps more customers might need different services at one location than another, she adds, such as workshops on general financial planning at one location and more advanced personal investing at another.

“Everything we do, the products that we sell, or the way we approach customers, everything is driven by our mission,” Ryder says. “We want [people to] automatically think of us when they have a [financial] question … to depend on us, call us and be top of mind.”

Carol Patton is a writer in Las Vegas, Nev.