Let’s grab a coffee at the bank


Ljubljana, city center, June 2019. The spot that was a home to a legendary city cafeteria “Europe” saw the opening of a new “bancafé” under the same name. Yup, that thing that opened is a true “bancafé”. A place where you can have a cup of coffee, take cash from your account or do a series of bank-related transactions is truly a combination of a bank and a cafeteria. While you are there, it makes perfect sense to do it all at once.  

Bancafé “Europe” was opened by the Austrian Sparkasse that operates within the Austrian Erste Bank group, in cooperation with a popular Ljubljana café and desserts spot Cacao. The bank proudly announced that the event marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first Sparkasse branch in Ljubljana, conveniently coinciding with the bicentennial of the first Sparkasse opening in Vienna. 

A decade or so ago this would be breaking news not just for all the major Slovenian media outlets, but for worldwide media as well. A bank in a cafeteria? Or is it a cafeteria inside of a bank? Whichever way you put it, a regular reader would be re-reading the news not believing his own eyes, while sipping on his first normal, morning coffee in a normal café, as is proper. 

“Europe” in Ljubljana, however, is neither the first nor the only bancafé in the world. Rather, it is just another example of a novel business model that exists elsewhere and one of many interesting innovations popping up across a variety of business sectors. 

A piece of news from Hong Kong would also fit the latter “innovations” category. Namely, Fairwood fast food chain has opened a new, specialized joint “Fairwood eSports” in July 2019 – a space designed and specially equipped for lovers of online games, allowing guests to eat the food of their choice while playing their preferred game. Part of the restaurant also hosts a complete video streaming infrastructure that allows the guests to compete with other eSport gamers from all over the world, while eating their favorites from the menu. Live streaming doesn’t end there, as the place also has a stage for different events that can go live and online at any point in time. 

The number of these, at first glance, unimaginable combinations will only go up, and should particularly be expected in traditional industries. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the globalization of production increased the competition at the global market which made once exclusive categories of products and services available to a wider category of users. Up until recently, two main criteria for buying a particular service or a product – buyer’s trust in the quality and the price – are not enough to make a decision anymore. Functionality of a particular product or a service has ceased to resonate as a deciding factor, due to a similar, standardized level that is achieved by different producers/providers. Moreover, the functionality was superseded by the user experience in purchasing and using the product or a service.

This is where the second reason kicks in. Computer tech that sits squarely in a little device we always carry around has fundamentally altered the way in which we communicate with each other. When applied to the topic at hand, our everyday experiences, even those related to the use of a particular product, are more easily and instantly shared with others. When the experience is special and different, its shareability factor increases. Similarly, these experiences can reach us faster and easier, and if unique and new, make us want to experience them ourselves. 

As in any other city, Ljubljana has a range of banks where opening of the account, getting a credit card, securing a mortgage or any of other typical bank services will be subject to more or less similar conditions. All of this can also be done online and from the comfort of your home, or work. But if you really make the time and put in the effort to go to an actual branch, aside from getting a transaction successfully completed, is there anything else worth remembering the day after? Would you actually feel the need to share the experience of going to a bank with someone else?

However, if you enter the bank and start your visit with having a cup of coffee, while reading the newspapers and then walk to the bank teller sitting behind something that resembles the bar, do your business and on the way out get a freshly squeezed juice, knowing that there is no other place in Ljubljana where one can do all of that, would you feel the need to brag, just a bit, about it all? Imagine posting a selfie from the bank, while sipping coffee, with the bank teller in the background? Put a good hashtag and proudly count the likes. If we are being very honest, this is exactly what the bank expects you to do.

Aside from providing a new and different experience to its user, the bank has a clear business ratio behind a decision to introduce the new concept. With the development of online banking, the number of clients coming to local branches is in constant downfall, making the office space underutilized. Getting the best of both worlds seems like a good direction to move forward. Each visit of the client, current or prospective, is an opportunity to offer additional services. We are only seeing the beginning of the era in which traditional banking halls are becoming multifunctional service/retail spaces.

So, as soon as the bancafé opening in your neighborhood, show no hesitation to visit while it’s still cool. Trust me, the craze is not going to last a long time. Also, do not be surprised when you soon start giving and receiving invitations to grab a cup of coffee in your local bank with friends.

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