On a recent road trip through the wine country of Northern California, I passed through Petaluma, Calistoga and Healdsburg. In the small downtown areas of these cities you’ll find large bank buildings. Sometimes more than one, but often just a single building anchoring the business district. The architecture of the bank is meant to convey stability, tradition, security and trustworthiness. The neo-classical design of these buildings is a strong gesture in favor of the rational and measured over the emotional and spontaneous. Their monumental scale signals that they were constructed with great effort and forethought– and that they will perdure through the vagaries of time.
The bank building in Petaluma is now occupied by an Antiques collective. By the looks of it, it’s been that way for a long time. Even the bank’s vault itself is just another room in which collectibles are displayed. The bank building in Calistoga is now a shoe store. Healdsburg’s bank building houses an art gallery. The symbolic nature of the architecture remains, but it is unconnected to the commercial enterprise now in residence.
There was a time when we brought our paper currency to a bank for safekeeping. The thick metal walls of the safe provided a fortress to protect the excess capital we’d created with our labors. The architecture of banks has changed, they seem to have morphed into a combination of a fast food restaurant and a self-service gas station. Banks no longer function as protectors of capital, their value now is as fast connectors, or routers, of capital through the Network. Capital streams are routed in from various sources; capital streams are routed out to selected payment endpoints. Banks also have a DVR function, time shifting capital streams through loans or investments.
As capital continues its migration to the Network, the need for a physical edifice containing customer facing bank operations begins to disappear. The bank only needs to be securely available in its full capacity wherever the Network is available. Just as you can now withdraw paper money from any commercial endpoint, you will be able to deposit money as well. The Network always tends to move toward a two-way interaction. The first screen of your iPhone is the new prime real estate, the new town square.
Lifestreaming data pours off of the routing transactions we make throughout the day– generally this has been a private gesture stream reserved for our eyes only. The shape and presence of that stream, its user interface if you will, will emerge as a new ecosystem. Rather than a flat record of alpha-numeric transaction routing codes, it will be an dynamic network of active commercial nodes– a stream of information/interaction points.
The thickness of the bank vault is replaced by the connectivity of the Network as a primary metaphor. Banks, telecom companies, internet providers, and credit card companies are all in the same business now. In this new landscape, in what must you trust to select a provider?