Spotlight on Jennifer Windbeck

Meet Jennifer Windbeck - The Managing Vice President of Capital One Cafes & Branches, she was part of the founding team that evolved the Capital One cafe concept.


Jennifer Windbeck is the Managing Vice President of Capital One Cafes & Branches and was part of the founding team that evolved the café concept and got them up and running.  We sat down to talk about her career path, which started in banking 23 years ago, and about the cafes themselves.

I’ve visited a Capital One Café since our conversation and I can’t wait to return!  I’m so inspired by Jennifer’s insights from her experiences and vision for the future of banking.

Haley Hoffman Smith:  What did your career path look like?

Jennifer Windbeck:  I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad for pre-law, and after graduating, I planned to take two years off before going to law school so I could work a bit and save money. I started in banking as a branch manager trainee at Wachovia Bank in Greensboro, NC. I was excited about the opportunity to lead people in a work setting. 23 years later, I’m still very happily in banking, and I’m yet to go to law school!

I loved the leadership aspect of being a branch manager and helping customers with their needs.  I eventually moved to private and business banking, where I especially enjoyed helping people start and grow businesses, and then was a regional leader of branches, business banking, and private banking. I then made the transition to the headquarters of Wachovia in Charlotte, North Carolina, working for several years in national branch sales and service strategies. In my last year with Wachovia, we suffered the financial crisis in 2008, which was difficult, but turned out to be a great learning experience. I then worked for Wells Fargo after its acquisition of Wachovia, then spent one and a half years at Morgan Stanley in the private banking division. It was my chance to be part of starting something from scratch. Within 18 months, we had created an entire ecosystem and team of bankers in investment offices.

A former leader of mine had moved to Capital One and approached me with an opportunity in the Retail Bank.  The role would require me to relocate to the headquarters in McLean, VA, which I was hesitant to do. After getting a feel for the customer-centric and collaborative culture during the interviewing process, I knew I belonged at Capital One and accepted the role.

My first three years at Capital One were spent leading sales and service strategy for branches, small business banking, and Capital One investing, similar to my work at Wachovia. Then, four years ago, I got a tap on my shoulder, saying, “We’ve acquired a few cafes from ING Direct; we like the general concept and want to re-invent it.   Do you want to leave this familiar and comfortable role you’re doing and venture into the unknown?” And I said, “sign me up”. It was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.

And so, four years ago, I started working with the Capital One cafe team. I have overall responsibility for the management of the cafes – we have 34 of them now and are still growing! - and the people in them. My team and I built everything from customer experience, operations, community engagement, and partnerships with food and beverage providers.  Earlier this year, my job grew. I’m still leading the cafes, and now I also directly lead our Louisiana and Texas branches, as well as our national branch and café operations, customer experience, communications, and real estate network. We’re now re-imagining banking in a traditional branch setting. I love my job – it ties together my background in branches with the innovative approaches we take with cafés, and I get to work with a phenomenal team of people.

HHS:  I’m so fascinated with these cafes - I’ve of course seen the amazing commercials, but tell me more about the customer experience and what you’ve built.

JW:  Well, we started with empathy research. We worked with experiential designers, who asked people what they want in a bank. We learned that most people prefer digital banking for day to day needs -- they wanted to be able to do their banking from the convenience of their phone or occasionally an ATM. Many people don’t like to visit a physical branch to conduct basic transactions. Additionally, people are increasingly stressed about money across all ages. Millennials in particular are feeling less equipped than prior generations to handle money. So, when someone has a transition in life or worries about how to manage money, they want a way to relieve financial stress. At Capital One, we want to reduce financial anxiety for people and communities.

So, in the cafes, we’re all about the experience.  Our food and beverage partners sell Peet’s™ Coffee and local bakery items, and anyone using a Capital One credit or debit card gets half off of the handcrafted beverages. Many people come in just for that, and they’re welcome to do so. Our Café Ambassadors will not try to sell them anything if they do. There are no sales goals or sales incentives – the café team is just encouraged to have a human connection with anyone who comes in.

Our Cafe Ambassadors come from different walks of life and backgrounds. Very few worked previously in banking. They dress casually, and all we look for is someone who can have a great human connection with visitors. These Ambassadors help with basic things, like showing customers how to bank on their mobile devices and teaching them more about their account options, but they are also available to help with deeper needs if customers are interested.

We offer completely free money coaching services with certified life coaches -- three, one-hour sessions with each person or couple, to help customers tie together their personal values and how they relate to money. In the first sessions, the Money Coaches help them think through what’s important to them in their lives, then how that relates to how they think about money. They build their next two one-hour sessions tailored to the customers’ goals.  The money coaching sessions are open to all café visitors – not just Capital One customers.

We are able to guide customers through basic banking transaction needs with advanced ATMS, offering multiple denominations of cash – customers can get one dollar bills or hundred dollar bills, and everything in-between – as well as larger withdrawal limits, and customers can make credit card payments at most of our café ATMs.

The cafes are also deeply connected with the neighborhoods in the communities they serve. We offer workshops on financial educational and literacy both in the cafes and at community centers.  Our café teams volunteer extensively in their communities. We offer free meeting space in our cafes for nonprofits to use.

HHS:  Wow, I can’t wait to check out the cafe in Denver! What is your advice for today’s young people?

JW:  My first piece of advice is about change. The world is moving and changing faster than ever, and business and industry in particular are rapidly evolving. People can either find that daunting or exciting. The natural tendency is to become terrified by that; change can come in a big form, like a recession, or small, like changes in technology or even organizational structure within a company. The people who become paralyzed with fear really aren’t successful anymore. The ones who are successful choose to see change as exciting, and choose to differentiate themselves during times of change. This mindset has helped me the most in my career. Ask yourself, “How can I get onboard with this change? What can I do to differentiate myself, my work, and my team? How can I help to lead my team through this change?”

Stop thinking about things outside your control, then turn the contemplation to, “How can I make things work?”

My second piece of advice is to find purpose and meaning in your work. It’s critical to either find and create work for yourself that has meaning inherently -- entrepreneurs in particular are by nature doing this. Find something that has meaning to you. But at minimum, find the things within your job that have meaning to you.

For me, this is my work with the cafes and branches. It’s important to me to help communities and individuals achieve their best selves. I’m able to do this through my work, but in the past, if work hadn’t been quite as meaningful, I still found intrinsic meaning and reward in helping the people I was working with. If you’re trying to fake it, people will see it and will not follow you. You must be authentic. You spend most of your life working and doing things that matter to you.  You have to make it count.

Haley Smith