It was an overcast, drizzly morning on Boylston Street in Boston. I was tired from a super-early flight and sweaty from being stuck in rush hour traffic in a less than optimally air-conditioned cab. And, to top it off...I was headed to the bank.
Woof. Doesn't sound like a great start to the day, right? Well, I'll be honest with you... I knew the "bank" I had just pulled up to wasn't a totally traditional bank. I knew it was called a "Café," I knew there was going to be a coffee bar, and I knew there was going to be free Wi-Fi and other digital features. So I was certainly curious about this bank/café...but...eh...how cool could it really be? I paid the cab driver, stepped out into the soggy air, and approached the door beneath the big Capital One sign to find out.
As soon as I walked in, I wondered if I had somehow been transported back to Brooklyn, where I had left at 4:50 a.m. that morning. The scene in front of me was straight from a neighborhood coffee shop.
- Dark wood and brick
- Comfy-looking armchairs
- Long and round wooden tables
- Cozy hanging lights
- Not-too-loud, not-too-soft ambient music
- And a delectable-looking Peet's coffee and snack bar
The shape of the room also struck me — it was one big circle, which felt immediately welcoming and inclusive. I noticed an empty armchair near the window, so I headed over there to sit down and take the rest of this mysterious place in.
With my eyes back on the front of the Café, I realized I had totally missed the two ATMs on either side of the entryway. Usually ATMs are the focal point of a bank; here, they were side notes. Literally.
As I looked around more, I noticed a friendly chalkboard sign announcing a "Throwback Game Night" on Thursdays.
Game night? At a bank? Also a bank that knows what #TBT means?
I was thoroughly intrigued. It was time to get some questions answered.
After introducing myself to the Café staff (more on them later!), I was immediately clued in to the core of Capital One's banking philosophy: digital, digital, digital. There are no tellers behind booths cashing your checks or associates inviting you to sit down and fill out paperwork in a cubicle. The staff walk around with laptops and smartphones to help customers, and there are several other digital perks as well.
The CashTapp ATM
This ATM works with a CashTapp smartphone app. So once you have the app set up with your accounts (which the staff can help you with, obviously), you just approach the ATM, select the amount you want to withdraw from the app, place your phone on the ATM sensor pad, and — voilà! — cash! No card or pin needed.
The (free) Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi means free email checking, social media stalking, internet shopping, article reading, video watching, and...online banking. The network doesn’t kick you off (you stay logged in as long as your stay lasts), which is great for those customers who use this as their workspace all day.
When staff members sit down with customers to open up a Capital One account, they always do so on a separate, secure Wi-Fi network, since security is top of mind for many when it comes to digital banking. They may also help customers download the Capital One app to help with their mobile banking needs.
I'll tell you a secret. After all this tech talk, I settled down in an armchair and did a sneaky thing.
It was just so pleasant, with the music and quiet buzz of people interacting, and the warm light and comfy chair, I put away my phone and laptop and pulled out a physical, paper book.
When I first arrived at the Café, I met Patrick and Pascal, who were incredibly friendly, and then met Kelley and Rose a bit later. They were all super relaxed and joking around with each other, and I could sense a great team attitude.
After I snagged a large, hot Peet's java to get my day going, I noticed Kelley and Pascal setting up an activity near the coffee line. I walked over to investigate.
Kelley explained that every day, the staff tries to set up a fun game to engage customers while they're in line for coffee. For this "Rainy Day Savings" activity, customers are asked what they're personally saving for and to share their favorite method for saving. In return for their contribution? A free coffee coupon.
The white board filled up as Kelley and Pascal chatted and joked around casually with customers. Never once did I sense an ounce of the pushiness or general salespersony attitude you would normally expect from people trying to sell their products.
One perk they mentioned made my jaw drop: Anyone with a Capital One debit or credit card gets 50% off Peet's coffee or tea drinks at any of the five Capital One Café locations in Boston (yes, there are five of these places — more on that later). So that's 50% off your daily espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha, or whatever your little caffeinated heart desires. All. The. Time.
Let's take a second to consider the implications of this if you spend, let's say, $3.50 on coffee every day.
Sooo yeah. Nice perk for coffee fans.
I wasn't nearly done getting deets from the staff yet, though. My next question: What's the deal with this Game Night?
Kelley explained that recently, they realized customers were wanting to visit the Café after their workday ended, so they extended the Café's hours until 9 p.m. Monday–Saturday and until 8 p.m. on Sundays. To showcase these new hours, they wanted to host a nighttime activity, so on Thursdays, they set up old-school board games all over the Café tables with a #TBT theme to engage members of the Back Bay community.
Another fun activity? Sometimes on sunny days, the staff gather a bunch of Capital One sunglasses and hand them out to people sitting outside on the patio.
Yes, I got a pair of those sunglasses. Yes, they are awesome.
There's no doubt Capital One wants to empower people to feel confident with their money. One core function of the Café staff is to come up with creative ideas for events and activities to host among the local community. They want people to know that talking money should be more fun and approachable. For example, Capital One hosts a series of panel discussions entitled #CapXTalks on a variety of topics including finance, innovation, and community. The most recent #CapXTalk titled “Investing and Impacting the Community for Good” was held at the Back Bay Café on Giving Tuesday and included speakers from The Red Sox Foundation, Harpoon Brewery, and the Capital One Foundation, moderated by Today show correspondent Mario Armstrong. You can watch it here.
Another core function of the staff: to have organic conversations and build real, human relationships with customers. I saw this in action when I spotted a customer sitting at a long table with Rose, discussing something pulled up on her laptop while holding and bouncing her baby. Rose later explained to me that she was helping the customer order checks and update her info in her Capital One account — and that she herself is a mom, so she loves interacting with other moms.
Not your typical glass panel or closed office banking interaction — that's for sure!
After this eventful morning with the staff, it was time for an interview with Patrick. I met him in the "Community Room," a special conference room that's open not only to the Café staff but also to area nonprofits and community partners to use for meetings...FOR FREE! All they have to do is sign up.
We sat down and kicked things off right away.
Tory: In your own words, what is this Café?
Patrick: At the heart of what we’re doing, it’s really about empowering people to feel confident about their relationship with their money. To do that, we have to redesign the banking experience. That means making things really simple and straightforward and creating an experience that fits naturally into our customers’ lives. This comes to life in two ways: (1) Innovative Products and Digital Tools, and (2) a Human Connection. The Café itself acts as a community hub for Bostonians and a great space for anyone to recharge their bank accounts or devices, grab some caffeine, and have banking conversations if they want — or just talk to me and the staff about what they did over the weekend! The Café also offers a space where customers can learn about financial digital technology and new programs like Money Coaching.
Tory: What do you do every day?
Patrick: I start off interacting with our morning-coffee regulars and then at 10 a.m., the team gathers to discuss initiatives going on for the day and make sure the floor is covered — and the rest of the day is all about engaging customers. In addition, I spend time coaching the staff so they can develop and continue to improve community relations and the customer experience.
Tory: What's the craziest thing you've done for a customer?
Patrick: I think the craziest thing is what I haven’t done. I’ve been a banker for six and a half years, and I’ve never touched a customer’s money — because I’ve always been involved in the digital side of the experience. Two weeks ago, a gentleman from New York came to visit, and on the way up, he realized he didn’t know where his Capital One card was. He came into the Café very distraught, and we were able to leverage CashTapp, a new secure app that lets you use your phone to withdraw cash from an ATM without using a card or PIN. He was able to download the app and access his account via our CashTapp ATM using nothing but his phone. So he was able to buy a train ticket home.
Tory: What's your favorite Café memory?
Patrick: Since I’ve been working here, we’ve gotten involved with a lot of great causes in the community. One of those is the Walk for Hunger. The morning of the event, I went with another co-worker and ran the 5K associated with the event, finished, refueled, threw on a volunteer shirt, and worked in the Boston Common until about 2 p.m. Then I went to the Ink Block Café where we had a tent at the South End Open Market, displayed some digital products, and provided free face painting. And that was my work day!
Tory: What's your favorite day of the week at the Café?
Patrick: Monday is my favorite day of the week! It gets a bad rap, but in my opinion, if you’re getting up and doing something you don’t like, that’s not Monday’s fault.
Man, what a cool job, and what a cool guy! After my chat with Patrick, I was ravenous, so I went straight to the Peet's coffee bar and bought myself a delicious tomato and mozzarella panini, which I devoured right by the window overlooking the patio. Now, it was time to hang with some customers.
As I noticed when I first walked into the Café, the tables, armchairs, and coffee line were filled with a range of different types of customers — and there was still a healthy variety as the afternoon began.
There were young, probably college-aged friends meeting to chat and catch up, business colleagues conducting informal meetings, and people sipping coffee and scrolling on their phones or surfing the web on their laptops (in many cases, both at the same time).
Nearby, I heard someone taking a phone interview. I bid him a silent "good luck."
There were moms with strollers. Men in business suits. Men and women in workout clothes grabbing some caffeine before or after the gym.
And then there were the regulars. I spoke to two of them.
Mandy Z. is an educational consultant and a Capital One customer. She comes to the Café every day because she works partly from home and finds it hard to stay motivated. She loves the atmosphere and said the people who work here are like friends. She didn’t used to love banking, but now she feels confident that if she ever had any problems with it, the Café staff could help her.
Jon R. is a brand/digital consultant and a Capital One customer, but he was NOT a customer when he first started coming to the Café. He comes to the Café almost every day to do work and to meet with clients. He thinks the atmosphere has just the right amount of buzz. He’s also an espresso drinker and saves $30 a month on the strong stuff by being a Capital One customer and buying it here.
Fun fact: Wait for it...he met his wife here! Not a joke. Jon was working, she walked in, they struck up a random convo, and now they are married Capital One customers!
After some relaxing, it was time for me to head out. I packed up my laptop and my new sweet Capital One shades and reflected on the last six hours. I had walked into the Back Bay Capital One Café confused and totally unsure what the day had in store. Turns out I got to drink Peet's coffee; hang out in comfy seating; engage in friendly conversation with a super-cool staff and customers; and, I don’t exaggerate this one bit, learn about how Capital One is redesigning what we consider "banking" to be something bigger, better, and WAY less formal and boring. I was legitimately sad to leave.
I gathered my stuff and went to say goodbye to the staff. As we exchanged business cards, they all said "Awesome to meet you!"
Café friends, the pleasure was mine.
Brought to you by Capital One.
*This article is sponsored by Capital One. Capital One does not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information, or recommendation listed above.
In-text headers from Thinkstock.