Designing a Bank for a Modern Cambodia

The Room’s approach for refreshing tired corporate branding

Banks are ancient institutions. As keepers of the world's most valuable asset, they attempt to represent not only strength and stability but trust and transparency. Architecturally, bank buildings have until recently existed as pure function.

In the past decade, however, banking has entered the virtual realm. Remarkable leaps in technology have reconstructed the idea of money itself from a tangible object into more of a conceptual construct. In this sense the purpose of physical banks has become less about providing monetary services than building relationships between customers and a brand.

Design-wise, banks must now broadcast values that are conducive to environments where financial systems exemplify the most advanced form of technology. This is also true for Cambodia – despite lagging behind a few years, banks are now embracing many new forms of innovative tech, including cardless ATM withdrawals, cashless payments and making international transfers through your phone. Much has been driven by the introduction of mobile apps, which has also helped widen the reach of financial services to still largely unbanked populations in rural communities. The number of commercial banks in the country currently stands at 44, which exist alongside a number of specialised banks, microfinance institutions and hundreds of rural credit operators.

Today, maintaining consumer confidence involves building a hyper-awareness of customer experience and comfort – and in Cambodia especially, keeping up with rapidly-changing habits – as well as having the courage to recognise, discard and renew not only irrelevant physical functions but an outdated aesthetic image.

For most banks, breathing new life into a brand does not necessarily mean discarding a logo or other identifiable markings, but rather transforming the meaning of these conventional corporate signals to fit a high-tech contemporary context.

An axonometric bird's-eye view of our recent bank design, which focusses on creating an easy and comfortable flow of people through the space

A new benchmark for Cambodia

As the first point of contact, this process starts from the facade, whether designing the headquarters to other main branches or smaller local bases. Contemporary bank buildings stand as powerful symbols of modernity. The HQ of leading global banks tower over skylines, exerting their status as the economic powerhouses at the centre of global financial capitals – consider Hong Kong’s Bank of China and HSBC building, or even Bangkok’s Robot Building.

This is also The Room’s approach for Cambodia. For these kinds of structures, strength, reliability and order can be translated through form symmetry, putting emphasis on the main entrance and repeating patterns or geometric shapes – which could play off the logo or other brand markings – making the facade immediately recognisable and striking. These values are also reflected in the choice of material – stone can evoke stability, steel can represent safety and glass can demonstrate progress and optimism. This sense of grandness and awe can also be complemented by increasing the height of interior ceilings.

When entering the bank, customers should feel at ease and not overwhelmed or disoriented. The Room sees inside spaces as collaborative or community platforms. Optimising comfort means perfecting the quality of the design and all of its components in combination – the detail of the finishes, the quality of materials to fit operational features, matching colours and textures, appropriate acoustics, the logic of the layout, etc.

An intuitive arrangement of the banking functions – aided by clear signage – should be achieved to minimise waiting times, including self-service stations, digital banking counters equipped with touch-screen tablets and cashier counters organised around a large waiting area with cosy furniture. Semi-transparent partitions such as frosted glass can ensure privacy while keeping the impression of openness. To minimise the physical separation between teller and customer, floor space can also be separated with banking zones by playing with acoustic features.

A contemporary interpretation of the original corporate palette can make interior spaces more attractive and pleasant – replacing heavy colours with brighter shades, and used together with other elements like warm wooden patterns and other repeating shapes, draws a freshness out of time-worn designs.

Contrasting colours with a few key accents also add an extra dimension, and can separate and distinguish different zones without necessarily installing permanent physical partitions. This keeps areas open and flexible as well as acts as a guide for the natural flow of people through the space.

Contemporary functionality in the banking sector requires shifting from transaction-focussed spaces to prioritising convenience and valuable experiences. Morphing a bank’s traditional corporate identity to a more meticulous and nuanced understanding and meeting of customer needs is inextricably linked to good design. Banks are some of the most technologically advanced institutions in Cambodia – with ample opportunity to set new benchmarks for customer service in the country, it’s time their image matched this.

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