The flagship branches of the world's top banks have come a long way from the iron grilles and potted plants of old. T o compete against online-only rivals and attract a new generation of customers, branches are installing sleek interiors and hi-tech gadgetry. The reason is clear: after years of relying on branches to drive retail revenue, European banks expect such networks to supply only 62 per cent of sales by 2020 from today's average of 81 per cent, Equinox Consulting says. Banks, especially those still nursing losses from the financial crisis, are under pressure to cut costs and are balancing the need to pare back branch networks by sprucing up selected outlets. But branches are still the first point of contact for many customers and are still the primary location for product sales like mortgages, new accounts and insurance, underlining the importance of upgrading them for a more tech-savvy generation. Flashy "bank of the future" branches mixing gadgetry with design have been opened by BNP Paribas in Paris, Barclays in London and Deutsche Bank in Berlin - at an estimated cost of €5 million (HK$52 million) each. Gauging their success is tricky. BNP was willing to give data on its refurbished flagship branch near the Paris Opera - which three years ago was fitted with a wall covered in plants, iPads for customer use and a touch-screen desk - saying footfall was up 40 per cent and new clients up 25 per cent. Italy's Unicredit also said footfall and new business increased at its newly revamped flagship branch in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, which offered "welcoming scents" and a touch-screen wall. Visits grew by an average of 60 per cent, while loans and deposits had doubled, the bank said. Still, BNP has done away with some ideas that failed to click with consumers: it has scrapped the iPads and touch-screen desk in favour of an interactive wall. In South Korea, Hana Bank allows mobile users to transfer money to one another by physically "bumping" smartphones. Shinhan Bank has unmanned "smart" branch kiosks that communicate with handsets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia is using a mobile app to drive mortgage sales by offering clients data on houses for sale, while BBVA's US unit Compass is testing drive-through ATMs with videoconferencing. Customers of the Washington branch of Carolina Premier Bank will soon find themselves face to face with a robot, which will greet visitors from November 15. Long-distance banking via videoconference is seen as a way to reduce branch staffing without hurting service, though customers still prefer face-to-face contact at some point.