Reinventing the Bank
With a new prototype in Newtown that combines cutting-edge technology with hands-on customer service, Univest re-imagines the banking experience
by Bill Donahue

As a 38-year veteran of the banking business, Louis Spinelli remembers when droves of people with paychecks in hand would flood their local bank branch every Friday evening. Those days are a thing of the past, given the advent of innovations such as mobile banking, ATMs and online bill pay, but Spinelli says traditional bank branches haven’t changed to reflect this cultural shift. With his help, however, one locally based banking institution has worked to turn the banking industry on its ear.

On February 2, Univest Bank and Trust Co., which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Univest Corporation of Pennsylvania, unveiled a new prototype location on Swamp Road in Newtown. Here, Univest has reinvented the banking experience in a compressed footprint that looks vastly different than the branch locations of yesteryear. Here, Univest customers discover not only cutting-edge technology designed to provide them with more information and more options but also hands-on service from a team of highly trained “personal bankers.”

“We wanted to move forward in a big way,” says Spinelli, Univest’s president of consumer banking, who was tasked with spearheading the prototype project. “We saw this as an opportunity to do a lot of research work in the quest to answer the question, ‘Where is branch banking going?’ We’ve always had good real estate and a strong group of people who provided solid customer service, but our experience needed to be upgraded. With this prototype, I didn’t want to bring us from being behind to being even with the rest of the pack; I wanted us to get ahead.”

Univest’s bold move forward might be unsurprising considering the background of the company’s current president and CEO, Jeffrey M. Schweitzer. Prior to joining Univest as CFO in 2007, he spent several years working in upper management for Ernst & Young LLP.

“I had the benefit of not having any preexisting notions about ‘We have tried that before and it didn’t work,’” he says. “We were all very open to change, and I was very open to us trying different things that would put us not on the ‘bleeding edge’ but on the cutting edge. I think that has helped us think outside the box and be willing to think differently, which is good considering how much our industry has changed.

“Over the last five to 10 years, as technology has become a bigger part of the industry, traffic in branches has been decreasing significantly,” he continues. “Additionally, we looked at what was an expensive delivery model and needed to see in which ways the model was still relevant with customers of all ages. People still want to get in their car and drive to our financial institutions, and they still want that personal interaction. So, we had a few things to figure out.”

Every member of Univest’s executive team and every department contributed insights that helped give shape to the prototype, as did carefully selected experts from key third-party resources. “We asked for a lot of input from a lot of people,” says Spinelli. “We wanted to make sure we were leaving no stone unturned.”

When the doors to Univest’s Newtown financial center opened in February, a newly designed customer experience was born. Inside this 2,200-square-foot building—significantly smaller than Univest’s older-model locations, which measure 3,500 square feet—technology and personalized attention go hand in hand. In addition to conducting traditional banking transactions, customers can view product demonstrations, explore mobile banking options, calculate financial scenarios and request appointments using a touchscreen kiosk. Customers can also learn more about a host of other Univest financial solutions, from insurance and mortgage banking to investments and wealth management, among other things, by way of a state-of-the-art “media wall.”

Although technology is essential to the prototype, at its heart is the team of personal bankers. Traditional teller windows have been replaced with a central greeter’s station manned by a mobile banker who initiates a conversation with each customer and then escorts him or her to a “pod” and addresses the need directly or assigns the task to another team member. Each personal banker uses a portable tablet to assist in handling transactions from start to finish, whether it’s to fill out an application for a home equity or commercial loan, open a savings account or simply cash a check. For customers requiring more complex transactions or consultative appointments, personal bankers can help them schedule private meetings, even after hours, if needed.

Everything about the prototype is designed to spur conversation, increase service options and assist customers in a way that makes them the most comfortable, according to Spinelli.

“We wanted to make sure we were serving the needs of people who use technology for their banking needs, but at the same time we didn’t want to fully automate the teller function,” he says. “If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like technology and you want to buy a CD or open an account, we can sit down and do that with you individually. It’s all about convenience. Our instantly issued debit cards are a good example. If you just lost your debit card and you’re going on vacation tomorrow, we can issue a new card right then and there and have you in and out in 10 minutes.”

Annette Szygiel, Univest’s executive vice president and chief experience officer, considers the prototype the latest example of her company’s efforts to, in her words, “build bridges to new generations of customers.”

“Our prototype is a template for the future of what our financial center network will look like,” she says. “We believe banking must be a balance between the convenience of technology and holding employees accountable to deliver a personal conversation. I think we’ve done that here with this integrated platform. Technology is driving convenience and spontaneity, but we never want to forget the value of conversation.

“We’re in the relationship business,” she continues, “and we hope to be with you and your family members, Mr. and Mrs. Client, from the day you open your savings account to the day you’re no longer here. We want to provide financial solutions for life, and technology alone cannot provide that level of experience.”

Initial feedback to the prototype has been “very positive,” according to Schweitzer. He says Univest aims to replicate its early success with a “very selective and gradual rollout” to additional locations. The company will soon break ground on a second prototype location, in Collegeville, followed by a third in Philadelphia. In addition to new ground-up locations, the company will explore opportunities to retrofit a number of its approximately 30 existing financial centers throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.

For a company that has been around for 139 years, Univest remains very much in growth mode. In January, for example, Univest completed its acquisition of Valley Green Bank to expand its presence in the Philadelphia market. The company intends to use its new prototype as a tool for realigning its footprint and making sure it is serving constituents in the most effective ways possible.

“Bank branches aren’t dead, but how they are used is changing, so we’re changing along with it,” Schweitzer says. “We’re introducing this new model to expand our overall footprint, and we will retrofit where possible. That’s the future for us in branch banking.

“In the end, we are in the dream-fulfillment business,” he continues. “People want to start their business, grow their business, buy their first house, buy an investment property, save money to send their children to college, even save money for a vacation. These are big life decisions, but these are dreams people want to realize, and every move we make is so we can help them do that for every stage of their life.”

Univest’s Newtown branch is located at 15 Swamp Road in Newtown. For more information on this or any other location, or any other service offered by Univest, visit or call 877-723-5571.

Photograph by Allure West Studios