Young CEO Creates CU of the Future With New Branch, New Ideas
Williams is an under-40 president/CEO that started in credit unions as a teller when she was a student. She's been at Best Advantage since 1988 and said it has always been a goal of hers to someday build her dream credit union.
Recently, Best Advantage opened the doors to its 11,632-square-foot credit union of the future in Brillion, Wis. The credit union worked with Miron Construction Co. to develop plans for the two-story building. Williams tapped both her student advisory board and staff members for ideas and implemented the theme "Creating truly memorable experiences" to motivate them.
The entrance of the branch has large glass windows with colored kites flying from the high ceilings.
"We wanted it to be a comfort zone and for members to come in and smile. The kites represent having no worries in life, and we want people to feel that when they come in," Williams said.
From the student advisory board, made up of local high school students, the credit union got the idea to create what it calls its "Lending Living Rooms." Instead of typical offices, the credit union created small, living room type offices for staff to meet with members. The rooms give off a home-like feeling, with comfy arm chairs instead of office furniture and end tables to rest beverages on.
In the branch entrance, staff members worked together to create a plan for teller pods to eliminate the teller lines.
"My staff made 54 changes to the original plans, which I probably would have signed off on. These were custom made and completely designed by the staff. I wanted to make sure they would work for them."
To help members relax, the credit union created a caf? along with a lending library that has research and reading materials on different financial topics that members can take out and return.
Financial literacy is a big part of the credit union's mission, Williams said, so it was important to implement that into the new branch through the lending library and kids' play zones. Local first-, third- and fifth-grade classes take field trips to the building to use the kids' play zone, which features a little ATM, lending games and magnetic money.
"Kids love this room. It gets them talking about financial topics and makes them comfortable in the credit union by realizing that it's not a scary place," Williams said. Each child that enters the credit union also gets a juice box and stickers.
Recycling and the environment is also a big part of the credit union, Williams said. Another new practice they implemented was replacing the money envelope with a reusable money bag. Members can purchase the bag for $1, and the money made from the bags goes toward planting trees in a local park.
"I'd love for credit unions nationally to think about social responsibility. There are a lot of people jumping on the social responsibility bandwagon, but do they really do it? I think this is where credit unions can really differentiate themselves," Williams said.
To go with the new branch, Williams also created new staff titles that represent forward thinking and the theme of the new branch. For example, lending officers changed their titles to financial architects.
"Lending is not a one-thing-fits-all-type role," Williams said of why they changed the title. "We wanted people to understand that when they meet with our financial architects they will be designing a product that fits their individual needs."
Each employee also has a mantra written on their door. Williams mantra is "Buckle up and enjoy the ride." "There are always ups and downs, especially in these economic times. It's my job to make sure my staff is ready for it."
Each room in the branch also has a name, like the possibility room, the think tank and the skybox.
The skybox was created to drive home the message to members that they are also an owner of the credit union. The skybox is only open to members who can use the space for personal meetings.
So far, Williams said members have said they love the branch and the new practices. "There will always be one or two people that are antichange, but being from here, I love it when I can make a difference in my hometown community. It's pretty cool."