My bank wants to be a café and my café doesn’t take cash. What just happened?

Lately I’ve been seeing ads from Capital One where a spokesman tells us that the bank is ‘reimagining’ banking. How? I wanted to know. He goes on to say that they have new cafés. Really? Café banks?

I just want to do my banking without unexpected surcharges. I can find my own café, thank you.

Which brings me to my new local coffee shop. A new high end ‘coffee bar’ called Dairies Coffee House and Cold Brew Bar, just opened near me. It’s impressive in so many ways, from their 14 tap cold brew bar to the Captain Crunch flavored milk they offer and the comfortable seating with power outlets throughout. Plain and simple, they’ve stepped up my interpretation of what a coffee shop should be. But alas, they are a ‘cashless’ shop. Only plastic or digital money is accepted.

So who’s the winner here?

I’m betting on the Dairies Coffee and Cold Bar. They know who they are. They know whom they serve. And guess what? When I want to relax and have a cup of coffee I’m headed there. No cash? No problem. Frankly if it's more efficient for them not to handle money, I’m on board. When it comes to the business they are in (coffee and a hospitable place to hangout), they have proven themselves to be incredibly capable. And as I look around, the place is full of people who are completely comfortable without cash.

On the other hand, Capital One and the big institutional banks in general have yet to sort out who they are and what they do. Of course they know how to make money by charging people to hold their money and to use their debit cards. But coffee?

Frankly I’d rather pay an extra dollar to the café than drink a free cup from my bank.

That’s just me as a consumer. But since I make my living advertising and building brands, I find this particularly curious. As I see it, brands that know who they are make a commitment to stay on that path. Exhibit A: The café. On the other hand, brands who don’t know who they are are destined to undermine their own success.