Have you ever talked about your bank over dinner with a friend? If you have, then you may be a member of Studio Bank. Studio Bank is a boutique financial services organization that lets its members, founders, advisors, and staff know that they are more than a transaction. The bank distinguishes itself in meaningful ways, from its empowerment of creators and small businesses, to the murals and artwork that pay homage to the street art that has been featured in countless Nashvillian and visitor selfies since the trend exploded around 2014 (though let’s not forget pioneering African American muralists like Aaron Douglas, artist in residence at Fisk University in 1930).
I walked into what felt like an exclusive club, decorated with white walls, gray carpet, light wood, and pops of orange, gold, blue, and green in the furniture. There is a large mosaic French Bulldog (their unofficial mascot) on the lobby wall and a bar featuring Frothy Monkey coffee. Music was unobtrusively completing the vibe of crisp, classy and comfortable. On the wall within the office directly across from the entrance is a display of around 20 tiny glass domed terrariums, thoughtfully hanging in an asymmetric design. My first question for Harry Allen, Chief Relationship Officer, and April Britt, Chief Experience Officer was how all of this came to be. They were on the initial team that had the aha moment when Avenue Bank was purchased by Pinnacle Bank. Both have extensive and varied banking careers. Nashville needed a sophisticated community bank where people and relationships were the foundation.
As they talked, several words were both repeated and felt in their narrative of how Studio Bank came into being, its brand and in how it operates 18 months later. In fact, every answer is founded upon these cornerstones. I will begin with art because many readers are already familiar with Studio as a bank.
Art: Almost every large expanse of white wall is graced by a mural by a Nashville artist. Ashley Bergeron Segroves was April’s guide to local muralists. April, who added interior designer informally to her profile, and the early team wandered through Ashley’s studio and pointed out patterns, colors, and textures they liked. Ashley introduced the team to the artists, most of whom are women, and invited them to create bright and welcoming murals. One mural that crosses three walls was named Trust by the artist. Financial institutions can be intimidating, and April wanted the Studio Bank office to be warm and friendly for members and employees. Even the Board Room is adorned by a Tess Davies mural that sweeps over, around and below by three windows. Remember the French bulldog in the lobby – it was painted by the employees as one of the regular team-building and fun activities. Murals and other pieces of visual art throughout the space are reminders that there is creativity even in banking (within federal guidelines, of course).
Founding: A group of bankers would utilize the best of customer-facing and back-end banking software to deliver a virtual and in-person high touch feel without branches. They tapped their personal (e.g., 5th generation Nashvillian Harry convinced his Sunday School teacher and Godmother) and the larger Nashville networks (at least 85% of investors are local) to raise $46M to launch the bank. These bankers were well-known professionally and personally through their volunteer work.
Founder and Advisor Experience: The Board of Directors and Founders’ Advisory Board are intentionally pictured together on one page because Studio Bank appreciates them and values their input. The group is diverse in ethnicity, age, industry, gender, etc. Studio Bank wanted to start with a broad investor base. The coalitions meet in total and by sector at events several times a year designed to engender engagement and elicit feedback.
Member (Client) Experience: No one becomes a member because they received a flyer or an email. Studio Bank has grown to $200M through word of mouth. Everyone is welcome. Harry made it clear that “creator” could mean creating a new lifestyle for your family – the sentiment is inclusive. Studio Bank is also planning member events.
Bankers want to hear a member’s story to assist in creating a unique solution to the member’s goals. Members have high touch and high tech access to their funds and bankers, and Studio Bank is intentional that the quality and feel of online and physical services (it’s tucked on the 3rd and 4th floor of the Bohan Building in the Gulch) are indistinguishable.
Employee Experience: Bankers are paired with members who already trust them and/or by their relevant experience. If a member has a relationship with a banker who does not have a particular skill, the banker can leverage the skills of her teammates. There is no hierarchy of bankers assigned based on the financial coffers of the member, and bankers are not incentivized based on the portfolio of their members. If one banker wins, the bank wins. Relationships are of primary importance. This includes office relationships. Employees have the option of attending weekly meetings for business updates, celebrations, and hearing speakers.
Clearly, Studio Bank is more than a bank and seeing their bulldog logo is always sure to bring a smile or conversation starter.