The identifying characteristic of an online bank is the lack of physical branches. Without the brick and mortar presence, online banks are able to offer low-cost accounts with attractive rates. They are missing out on the marketing opportunities that major national banks have with retail locations. But, that’s starting to change.

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Keep an eye out for your online bank disguised as coffee shops.

Some financial institutions are doing that just so patrons have saving on their mind while they’re sipping on their cup of joe.

These cafes sell coffee, deli food, and treats that customers can enjoy in a spacious setting with flat-screen televisions and free Wi-Fi Internet access.

Unlike your regular Starbucks store, these coffee shops have bank staff – deemed coaches, agents, experts, or whatever you’d like to called them. They don’t hound you to open “this” account and sign up for “that” service. But, if you have any questions regarding the bank’s products, they are there.

More Than Just Coffee

ING Direct, the renowned pioneer of the online banking industry, has already placed such cafes is major cities throughout the country. It just recently opened one in San Francisco, California. In addition to just running a coffee shop, ING Direct regularly holds workshops and other financial education sessions and events.

It’s a microscopic attempt at a marketing strategy that has already been deployed generously by the nation’s largest retail banks. Though, you won’t find big banks holding workshops for just anyone.

Even State Farm, a leading insurance company, has taken a similar approach with a branded cafe called Next Door. It follows a model similar to ING Direct with a focus on financial coaching and classes. And, insurance isn’t the only topic of those lessons – State Farm has an online banking division.

If more online banks step into physical locations in such a manner, it may not offer much value to current customers but it opens doors for signing up new customers, especially at a time when big banks garner much negative attention.

With proven impact to customer acquisition, it would not be surprising for Ally Bank, one of the biggest names in online banking, to become a player in this front as well.

What do you think of online banks having a physical presence through coffee shops?

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