A new café concept that you can bank on working out

The high street, the workplace, how we do business and how we manage our bank accounts are all changing. Perhaps nowhere in Jersey embodies this more than Santander’s new work café in the heart of town. Ian Heath met the bank’s chief executive James Pountney to find out more about the Island’s trendiest high-street branch

IF someone had told you in 2016 that within five years your local bank branch would have a jukebox or an in-house coffee shop, you may have been justifiably sceptical.

Fast forward to 2021 and these are just some of the features of Santander’s new Work Café outlet, which occupies, and has breathed new life into, the former Thomas Cook building at Charing Cross.

As well as being able to select their favourite tunes or order a flat white, customers can book hi-tech meeting rooms or meet friends and business associates, even if they are not a Santander client.

James Pountney, chief executive of Santander International, said that the bank had been looking to open its first high-street branch in Jersey for a while, and went with the super-modern work-café concept, after seeing it in practice elsewhere.

‘This originally came about because we had harboured ambitions to have a branch presence in Jersey’s high street for a long time,’ he said.

‘When we eventually got around to looking at it we became aware of the work-café concept, which is across the Santander Group. There are more than 80 around the world in all the various countries where Santander has got a franchise and the first one in the UK was opened in Leeds.

‘About five or six of us took a trip to Leeds on the way to the visit the Isle of Man and had a look at the work café there. We were absolutely blown away by the concept and really loved the whole idea of it.

‘It completely overtook our thoughts around opening a traditional branch for Jersey. We hadn’t had a normal high-street branch here before and we thought this was the way to go – straight to this concept. That’s really where it started.’

He explained that the café is essentially a hybrid of a high-street bank, a work hub and a coffee shop.

‘It is open to customers and non-customers, the only difference being that if you’re a customer and you pay for a coffee you’ll automatically get a discount,’ he said.

‘Our team use it to meet with our customers, but equally it’s open to people to book the meeting rooms and come and use whatever they want. The idea is that it embraces all of the digital technology that we’ve got used to using, particularly in lockdown.

‘All of the rooms have 40-inch screens for presentations or meetings, you can plug all your kit in, there’s Zoom in every room. When we get people who don’t live in Jersey coming to the Island to do business, this could be a great place for them to meet and to talk back to colleagues in the UK or wherever.

‘There’s nothing else like this from a banking perspective in Jersey and when you look at our competitors in the UK, when we were in Leeds, we were chatting to the team there and there are a couple of other challenger banks that are doing this. Virgin Money have got a similar concept but there’s not a lot more.’

He added that market research had indicated a real appetite for continued customer interaction, even as we shift increasingly to online banking.

‘We did a load of research before we launched anything in terms of a branch presence, particularly in the Island,’ he said.

‘The overwhelming feedback we got was more and more there’s a move to digital for most things, but people still want face-to-face interactions. And actually for the customers that we surveyed, particular in the Channel IsIands, overwhelmingly people still want to come and see somebody.

‘It’s not so much the physical presence where there’s a counter and it’s very formal, it’s now more somewhere where people can come and relax, have a coffee and chat, chat to staff if they want to, and then use the technology to either come and work quietly or meet with people.’

Breaking new ground in Jersey is not always the easiest thing to do, but Mr Pountney said feedback had been very positive, which had been borne out by the café’s popularity, even with Covid-19 restrictions in place.

‘The feedback we’re getting is that it’s got a real nice vibe to it. It feels very welcoming and the customers really like it,’ he said.

‘We’re also getting great feedback from all our non-customers that are using it. Hopefully we’ll convert those into customers over time.

‘The other big thing that we are not doing yet because of the Covid-19 restrictions, is that we will start to use it for events. The work-café concept is not just about people using it as a meeting place, it’s also to foster innovation and entrepreneurship and what we will be running is a series of presentations and events, any sort of things that we think are of interest, to try and gather up together like-minded individuals to discuss these topics.’

Plans to introduce the work café in Jersey were in place before the pandemic, which has accelerated many working trends.

Mr Pountney said that he sees things picking up even further as Covid-19 subsides.

‘Typical luck is that we managed to launch it right in the middle of Covid-19. But this was 18 months-plus in the planning and we started on this before Covid came about,’ he said.

‘We delayed the opening marginally and launched in early January, although we were only able to launch a fairly limited service with just takeaway coffee.

‘The minute that hospitality restrictions were relaxed, this place has been full every day. It’s been really, really great. I think the trend will accelerate for sure.

‘At the moment, we’re still making sure that we’re two-metres distancing, but I think once the two metres is dropped and we can put some of the tables back in here, it will be excellent.’

He said that he felt the location and building were perfect, adding Santander had received great support from the parish and other authorities in developing the project. ‘We took a lot of time and trouble to select the right location. We’re really pleased with it. It just seems to be in exactly the right spot,’ he said.

‘The Thomas Cook building was empty for a long time, but it was such a beautiful old building, with so much to offer.

‘As you could imagine, as always, there’s been lots and lots of permissions and various things that we’ve needed to do. But we’ve had great support really on that side of things and, honestly, it has worked fairly seamlessly.’

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