South by Southwest: Banking, coffee combo brews at Capital One

AUSTIN, Texas — When you hear the phrase, “What’s in your wallet?” the Capital One family of products immediately come to mind, and why wouldn’t it? After all, the Northern Virginia-based financial giant has invested millions of dollars and dozens of creative marketing concepts to ensure their brand, image and lineup of service offerings are both impactful and memorable.

But if you ask that question to any of the dozens of Capital One employees scattered throughout Austin this week for SXSW, you are likely to hear an answer that’s more along the lines of “everything … and just a little bit more.”

“South By Southwest serves as a great forum for Capital One to touch our customers while also documenting the new, innovative and technological breakthroughs our company delivers over and above banking services, credit cards and checking accounts,” said Capital One’s Vice President of Digital Product Marketing Amy Heidersbach.

Proof of that claim can be easily found at the corner of 5th and Trinity streets in downtown Austin where the company has completely overtaken Antone’s Restaurant, re-branding it for the week as the Capital One House.

On Day One of the SXSW Conference and Festival on Friday, Capital One actually celebrated the one-year anniversary of the company’s professional relationship with the Amazon Alexa smart home hub. Formally launched as an official partner one year ago here at South By Southwest, Alexa interfaces at deeply personal levels with registered Capital One customers, offering voice-activated responses to the myriad complex and detailed questions a banking customer can potentially pose.

The innovation certainly doesn’t end there.

One new initiative that’s already making its mark across the country is Capital One’s newest retail concept, the Capital One Café. Essentially a coffee bar and a banking center, all rolled into one, the Capitol One Café provides a venue where people can recharge their bank accounts, devices and lives while learning new ways to manage their finances, try out new digital and financial tools or simply grab a cup of coffee or pastry.

With 17 locations, including one in Richmond, Virginia, the company is looking to take its commitment to customer service to an entirely new level.

“Most people know Capital One as either a credit card company, a retail bank or both; but a couple of years ago, we set out on a journey to talk to Americans about their money in a way that allows us to fit neatly into their daily lives,” said Shannon Jones, VP of Marketing for the Capital One Cafés.

The concept, Jones said, is not necessarily about replacing your regular coffee shop but rather to provide a new, different and exciting way to interface with your financial institution.

“The space is designed to continually provide a new experience each time you walk through our doors; from little messages and moments that make you feel good about what you’re doing there, to an interactive, visual-forward ethos that inspires you to do things on your own terms.”

According to Jones, Café Ambassadors in Project Runway apparel are available to help coach patrons through such processes as setting up an account, paying their bills online, applying for a credit card and more.

“Or if they simply want to order a cup of Peet’s coffee and enjoy the environment, that’s fine too.”

The growth and emergence of the Capital One Café concept is really just beginning, Jones says.

“Our real estate teams are constantly seeking new locations, a process poised to result in more Café openings in the coming years.”

So does that mean a D.C.-area cafe is on the horizon?

“Well, we have such a dominant presence in the National Capital area that it might be a while before we open a cafe in our hometown; but you never know what the future might bring.”

Now that sounds like that’s a concept that Capital One is still keeping buried deep within their wallet!

Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are WTOP contributors who work for Brotman|Winter|Fried, a Sage Communications Company.

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