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Capital One Café opens soon near Pioneer Courthouse Square, promising hassle-free coffee-shop atmosphere and a co-working feel.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Capital One Café in downtown Portland will be that bank's thirty-third in the country. The goal is to help people learn to bank digitally by explaining it to them face to face if they need it. The café opens at the end of August.

Retail is trying to reinvent itself as an experience to compete with online shopping, but retail banking has a much harder job to do.

Not only are branches unnecessary to people who like to bank on their phones and computers, but older customers, while they are embracing Facebook and Instagram to keep up with their kids and grandkids, are suspicious of banking digitally.

That's how Aarón Almada, Principal Associate, Community Relations for Capital One, explained it to the Business Tribune on a tour in July.

"Senior citizens are adopting technology and social media at a greater rate than other groups, but we're not seeing it with banking. There's a huge disconnect."

Capital One, which doesn't have branches in the Portland area, is opening a coffee shop/branch in the old Abercrombie & Fitch space across the street from Nordstrom and kitty corner from the Pioneer Courthouse Square Starbucks.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Construction workers put the finishing touches to the Capital One Café, which is designed to feel more like a coffee shop than a bank. Ambassadors will greet people to see if they have come for a banking issue of just a cup of Peet's.

The format is part bank, part coffee shop. There is a counter, but it's staffed by Peet's Coffee employees, selling coffee and local pastries from Finale, Sweet Pea and Bowery Bagels. Capital One provides eight "ambassadors" who greet people and float around the space asking if they need help with their banking. One vertical touch screen shows the Portland weather and information about events happening on site, while two more run content from corporate headquarters pushing Capital One products and services.

The deep goal is to explain digital banking, and to be a refuge to deal with a human when calls to customer service seem onerous.

Going digital is still complicated. Seniors are more susceptible to financial abuse, both because they have savings and because they might be behind the times with technology. Almada says, "Trust is a huge barrier to entry. Sometimes that adoption is scary, so our Ready, Set, Bank is tailored for senior citizens, but anyone can use it. It's about demonstrating the benefits of managing your finances digitally."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Large windows and many types of seating on the second floor, including nooks and private rooms, will welcome people whether they are Capital One customers or not.

Sit down

There are certainly plenty of seniors with time to sit around in Portland. On a recent Wednesday at lunch time, the senior-led One More Time Around marching band was running through hits like "Forget You" and "We Like to Party" while a hundred or so older folk watched from chairs outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

But the Capital One Café looks like it will attract an all-ages crowd. The seating is designed for the stay-all-day coffee and laptop crowd.

The two-story space offers around 10 types of seating, from café tables and window benches to super deep couches and cozy nooks. In fact, Capital One has christened one type of space the Nook. This is a small, sound-insulated room with a large sliding glass door which seats two or three people. There are three of these. There are also "niches,", or red-padded benches, inset into walls like window seats. Larger than that are the meeting rooms, also with glass doors, which seat at least six people. Anyone can use them, although they can only be reserved by nonprofit groups.

The company's website invites people to "Bank, Recharge, Learn and Hang Out." Pioneer Courthouse Square is a certainly a hangout. And with air conditioning, clean bathrooms and fast, password-less Wi-Fi, this could become popular.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Large windows and many types of seating on the second floor, including nooks and private rooms, will welcome people whether they are Capital One customers or not.

Nooks and stress

The Capital One Cafes are in 11 major markets, and when it opens at the end of August, Portland's will be the 33rd in the nation. Others contain bold colors, such as blue and red, with sweeping shapes and glittering logos. Portland's strives to feel local, which means a lot of wood — stools cut from solid timber, bench backs made from recycled bleachers from a high school gym — as well as all local staff. There are rough, unfinished concrete columns and sleek, inlaid LED lights in the stairwell. Other local touches include Pendleton fabrics and the hefty door salvaged from the cold storage room when a furrier inhabited the building. It doesn't lead anywhere, but it makes a nice conversation point.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jerrell Harris, left, and Greg Alston work in the community space at the new Capital One Cafe.

Four fee-less ATMs and the ambassadors are just the front end of the banking offering. The bank offers talks and mini lectures, as well as up to three sessions with a financial coach. One free workshop on offer is called Talking Money with Your Honey, and is about sharing finances with your significant other.

"We started by asking customers what they wanted and we heard they wanted to feel less stressed about their money," explains Almada.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Could you make the logo bigger? The Capital One Café on Southwest Broadway in downtown Portland will be that bank's thirty-third in the country. The goal is to help people learn to bank digitally by explaining it to them face to face if they need it. The café opens at the end of August.

"It's about having concerns around money that make people feel less stressed," says Ryan Laudenbach, the spokesperson and Director of Capital One Cafes. "They're free appointments, held in the private nooks. They're tailored to discover your needs."

"Our service is values driven, not to be confused with financial advising," adds Almada. "The goal is to find out what your personal values are and how you can tackle things in a way that's valuable to you."

It's standard that the money coaches be local contractors, not Capital One employees, and they come in on an as-needed basis.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Peet's Coffee will provide the coffee and local bakeries food at the new, downtown Capital One Cafe.

"People need to know this is a non-pressure, non-sales environment. It's all educational. Our ambassadors are truly there to find out what's important, to create some solutions for you. And this is not exclusive to Capital One customers, this is for anyone."

Laudenbach explains that people may be able to bank digitally, but when it comes to money managing they often don't know where to turn. "So, we take all the digital experience and a physical presence, and at that intersection, add a café. We're trying to make banking simple and straightforward.

"The concept is 1,500 square feet devoted to consumer space, with soft seating, table seating, floor-to-ceiling glass...it all adds to that experience. Then there's an enthusiastic team of eight Ambassadors, whose role is to guide, educate and assist people as they enter the space."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - In a bid to keep things local and historical, on the Capital One Cafe's second floor designers resused the old door of the fur cold storage room in the basement. It leads nowhee but is intended as a talking point.

Space is the place

"This is an all-inclusive experience, not coffee over here, banking over there. It's designed to have that flow, you will be able to navigate through the space, if you need the experience."

He adds that there's no pressure to do banking. It's OK if you just come in for coffee. (People paying with a Capital One card get 50 percent off Peet's drinks. This stems from the company's purchase in 2012 of ING Direct USA, the online banking company which started the idea with its Orange Cafes.) The space also uses Amazon Echoes and Dots which allow bank-by-voice with the Capital One app or skill, as Amazon calls them.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Large windows and many types of seating on the second floor, including nooks and private rooms, will welcome people whether they are Capital One customers or not.

Reinventing the branch

Umpqua Bank has tried for 10 years to lure people into its branches with couches, free coffee, newspapers, computers and TV. In fact, the branch a block away in the Fox Tower has crafts on sale (scented candles in teacups for $30 by GraceCandleWorks) as well as a reading room stocked with local books. There' even an analog phone that serves as a hotline straight to the desk of CEO Ray Davies, who tries to always pick up.) Despite all this the spaces rarely look busy, and no one ever looks like they're "hanging out."

Capital One's promise of decent coffee and music, plus hours of unmolested "third place" time, seems like it has a better chance of working in Portland, where people like to lounge even when they are working remotely.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Large windows and many types of seating on the second floor, including these nooks and other private rooms, will welcome people whether they are Capital One customers or not.

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Banking's softer side

Capital One is also pushing its benevolent side, just as banks must these days. (Wells Fargo, which was busted in a scandal of endorsing bullying and sometimes fraudulent sales techniques, is in the throes of reinventing itself. "It's a new day at Wells Fargo," and "Established 1852. Re-established 2018," and "Reaffirming our commitment to communities.")

Doing charitable work, in a highly visible manner, is essential for large modern corporations.

The Portland Capital One café/branch will work with the nonprofits Dress for Success Oregon and Portland Youth Builders, which organizes internships for future workforce needs. As well as holding meetings there, their members will enjoy financial literacy workshops and small business advice.

As Aarón Almada, Principal Associate, Community Relations at Capital One, puts it, "These two relationships reach into our over-arching philanthropic strategy at the enterprise level, called Future Edge, which is an $150 million commitment over five years to provide opportunities for individuals to gain skills to succeed in the digital economy."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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