Providing free wi-fi is like offering a toll-free number 30 years ago—a consumer-friendly way to make you stand out from the crowd. But unlike call centers, which have grown into multi-million dollar cost centers, free wi-fi only runs about $50 per month per location, a price that is sure to fall over the coming years.
There are two ways to jump on the wi-fi bandwagon:
- Offering access to users in branch lobbies
- Sponsoring free access at local gathering spots such as coffee shops, community centers, or libraries
If you are of the branch-as-a-retail-store mindset such as Washington Mutual's Occasio concept or Umpqua Bank's plasma-TV zones (see right), then free wi-fi is a great way to bring customers into the branch and keep them there (until presumably they buy something). Even more important than the opportunity to sell checking accounts to laptop-toting visitors, is the publicity you'll receive as the first bank in your area to offer such a trendy service. Only 15 U.S. bank branches currently offer wi-fi access according to JiWire (see Appendix below).
If you are concerned that high-schoolers looking for MySpace friends will inundate your lobby, you can let the coffee shop across the street provide the seating while you sponsor free Internet access (through a service provider).
With either approach you can require users to enter a bank-branded screen first, register, and create a wi-fi access username and password for subsequent access. You can then use this information to market your online banking and other services.
Appendix: Wi-fi in U.S. bank branches
JiWire lists 110,512 wireless Internet "hot spots" worldwide in its online database <jiwire.com>. Fewer than 1,000 are at bank locations, mostly in South Korea. In the United States, only 16 bank branches—out of about 80,000—currently offer wireless Internet access to customers, at least according to JiWire (see list below), and six of those are in the San Francisco area:
US Bank – 2 branches in the SF Bay area
Citibank – 1 branch in the SF Bay area
Integra – 1 branch in Indianapolis, IN
Bank of America – 2 branches in the SF Bay area, 1 in Miami, 1 in Norwalk, CT (Fleet)
Union Bank of California – 1 branch in the SF Bay area
First National Bank – 1 branch in San Diego
First National Bank – 1 branch in Hutchinson, KS
Cass County Bank – 1 branch in Queen City, TX
Charter One Bank – 1 branch in Cleveland, OH and 1 branch in Albany, NY
Umpqua Bank – at least 1 branch in Portland (reported in the press, NOT in JiWire listing)