Picture showing Helm Bank makeover

Douglas Blakey talks to
Michael Allen, chairman and managing director of the UK-based
branch design consultancy allen international, about one of the
firm’s most exciting projects: the creation of a revolutionary
branch experience using multi-sensory design and the rebranding of
Banco de Crédito to become Helm Bank.


Chart showing market share of Columbian deposits, gross laons H209UK-based branch
design consultancy allen international has worked with almost 200
banking groups around the world since its foundation in 1992, with
recent major contract wins including Standard Chartered, Mexico’s
largest bank, Banamex, Lebanon’s Bank of Beirut and Oman’s biggest
lender Bank Muscat.

The deals augment ongoing projects
in which allen is involved, including the seven-year contract to
refit and refurbish all branches of the UK’s Lloyds TSB (see
RBI 594
), while other stand-out commissions have included
programmes for Deutsche Bank in Germany, Canadian Imperial Bank of
Commerce in Canada, ICICI in India, Standard Bank in South Africa
and Turkish rivals Akbank and Garanti.

At the other end of the scale, as
banks have sought to capitalise on the trend for cost-cutting and
lean processes, the firm developed what it calls a Kit of Parts
outfitting service, a basic refurbishment package costing around
€20,000 ($25,000) per branch.

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Banks that have opted for this
includes Banco Espirito Santo in Portugal, BNL in Italy, and Turk
Ekonomi Bankasi in Turkey (see RBI 609).

But arguably none of the above
projects are quite as eye-catching as allen’s work for Colombia’s
Helm Bank, the former Banco de Crédito.

Having expanded its retail banking
unit in recent years following success in the commercial sector,
Banco de Crédito resolved to differentiate itself in dramatic
fashion in the growing Colombian banking sector.

“We have been working with the bank
for the past two years and it is one of the most exciting contracts
we have worked on, allen international chairman and managing
director, Michael Allen, told RBI.

“We wanted a complete change, so
decided to change the name of the bank,” Allen said.

“Most banks want to build on their
existing image and reputation but with Banco de Crédito, we decided
to rebrand as Helm Bank.”

Following a strategic review of the
bank’s future objectives Banco de Crédito rebranded as Helm in July
2009, while allen set to work on creating the world’s first
multi-sensory branded bank incorporating sound, smell, taste, touch
and sight.

Allen said: “Though companies have
been doing something similar for some time. For example, Rolls
Royce has a special fragrance, Singapore airlines have a unique
fragrance… Nokia’s default ring tone, the music in Starbucks…
multi-sensory branding had not been used in banks and certainly not
in Colombia.

“It is totally unique.”

Chart showing Helm Bank taotal assets, 2004-H109Following brand
personality workshops set up by allen, exploring multi-sensory
expressions of the bank’s new brand identity, the designers created
a ‘brand in a box’, a three-dimensional and interactive
multi-sensory brand manual.

While not a first in global terms –
Denmark’s Jyske blazed something of a trail in retail banking by
transforming its products into physical packages, which can be
picked up in a colourful box roughly the size of a cereal box,
while Dutch lender Rabobank achieved an instant hit with its Rabox
proposition – Helm’s bank product packaging was certainly a first
in the Colombian market.

The next stage of the project
required allen to define a new visual language and tone of voice
for the lender, combined with a branch redesign programme to form
the visual expression of Helm.

This required allen to advise the
lender on brand architecture, creative solutions for press and
in-branch communication, website and staff uniform design.

The challenge for allen was all the
greater given the state of the bank’s branding and existing branch

“Communications were weak and the
branches almost non-existent in terms of brand image,” Allen said.
“They were very transaction oriented. In-branch, customers and
non-customers were queuing up together, with non-customers clogging
up the branch.”

Having struck on the multi-sensory
theme, allen set to work on expressing Helm across the senses

  • Sight and Touch:
    a distinctive visual language was defined and expressed through
    pilot branches and all forms of graphic communication. Colour and
    imagery combined to create what allen defined as an “ownable visual
    signature”, while texture and form were used to create an
    appropriate sense of tactile quality, comfort and warmth;
  • Sound:
    Identifying the primary customer journeys throughout the redesigned
    branches, soundscapes were developed to subconsciously affect
    customer behaviour. So low density, low tempo, natural and
    synthesized sound was utilised to create comfort and encourage
    browsing. Higher tempo sound was used to encourage speed and
    movement in transient branch zones; and
  • Smell and taste:
    signature fragrances were created and deployed in key branch
    locations through the air conditioning system. In addition, Helm
    branded confectionary and water were developed to encourage staff
    engagement with customers.

The future branch concept utilised
multi-sensory design as a tool to support the segmentation of
space, creating two distinct zones.

For existing Helm customers, allen
created a comfortable lounge environment where clients are able to
browse products, with an emphasis on encouraging consultation.
Private seated teller positions are used to encourage relationship
building and cross-selling.

At the heart of the customer space,
allen created the ‘Helm Beacon’: an interactive graphic element
that can be changed during the year, helping to create a unique
visual signature.

For the non-customer zone, the
designers created a faster space with a direct style of
communication to encourage the notion of speed and efficiency.

With an emphasis on efficient
transaction, tellers dominate the space while materials were
deliberately harder, smoother and easier to clean.


90% approval

Chart showing Helm Bank net profits, 2004-H109Allen was also involved
in running training courses for Helm staff via its Retail Academy
unit to train tellers as sellers, prior to the lender opening the
doors of its pilot branches.

Two of Helm’s 76-strong-branch
network were identified – Andino in a prime shopping district and a
branch on the upmarket 73rd Avenue, both located in Bogota – to
create the first application of Helm’s new generic concept.

Initial results from the pilot
branches suggest Helm has an instant hit on its hands, with a
dramatic uplift in new account opening, product enquiries and a
customer approval rating of an outstanding 90%.

Such as been the success of the
trial branches, Helm is now rolling out the new branches across its
entire Colombian retail network.

“The reaction has been amazing.
Something like this in Colombia is light years ahead of other
rivals and will shake up Helm’s competitors,” concluded Allen.

While Colombian banks have not been
immune to the global economic downturn, the sector has performed
relatively well due to conservative lending policies and strict
risk management compared to peers in the US.

Colombian financial institutions
posted a combined net profit of around COP1.8trn ($892.2m) during
the first quarter of fiscal 2010, up 13% from the same period in

Locally owned private-sector banks reported COP1.22trn in
profits in the first quarter, up 16.1% from COP1.05trn in the same
period a year ago.

Chart showing Columbia's top 12 banking groups, ranked by assets