Call them banking baristas. ING Direct is using coffee cafes to peddle its virtual banking experience.
Modeled after its high-tech cafes in Chicago and St. Cloud, Minn., the financial institution is opening a new midtown New York location as well as a Honolulu operation by year's end.
The Chicago experience lures pedestrians inside with seven 32-inch LCD screens hanging in the window. The brand's signature lion and orange ball flash on the units along with "pursuit of happiness" and a convertible car that drives from one screen to the next.
Inside the cafe, there is a spherical dome with touch screens that visitors interact with to play content about financial products on three plasma screens. There are "amphitheaters" where patrons can attend financial seminars, surf the Web and buy pastries, Pete's coffee and branded merchandise from servers who also answer questions about mortgages and interest rates.
"It's a very high energy, upbeat experience, unlike any bank branch anyone has ever been in," said Brian Myres, head of sales for ING Direct USA, Wilmington, Del. "It's not meant to look or feel like a bank branch; it's meant to be a brand experience and that's what it is."
ING also has cafes in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Wilmington. While ING Direct isn't about to build a huge stable of cafes across the country, it sees the cafes as a way to deliver a high-tech message to its target audience in major markets.
"They're all performing very nicely. From a banking perspective, they're all generating more business than a traditional branch would," said Myres. "I've been a banker for many years and I'd be very pleased with the business they generate. But the big thing is they really solidify the brand in major markets where people are wondering who is the ING Direct."
Rise Vision, Toronto, provides the software and content for four of the ING cafes.
The ING Direct cafes are another example of the growing popularity of digital signage. Out-of-home video advertising network spending in the U.S. reached $1.28 billion during 2007 and is projected to reach $3.22 billion by 2011, per the Digital Signage Expo.