<p>WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The winds of change are blowing a refreshing new attitude and approach to credit union facilities. “When was the last time the financial industry really changed,” said Cincinnati Ohio-based design/build firm DEI Visioneer & Vice President of Creativity and Imagineering Cynthia Grow. “Credit unions have overcome their hesitation and are realizing that they have to progress and go beyond mimicking that `old look’ and building something different to exceed member expectations.” When Endicott, New York-based Visions Credit Union opened a branch in Sayreville, Pennsylvania, what Grow described as a “shotgun and pick-ups” community, DEI created a branch with a hunting lodge look and feel. “We didn’t want the credit union to be viewed as some `big city’ credit union invading Pennsylvania,” said Grow. “So we gave it a rustic feel and the graphics used have people fishing, hunting and word spread quickly so that soon everyone in town not only came in to see this lodge but many also became members.” Grow says that more branches, particularly those that are transaction heavy, are requesting “studio tellers” or remote teller systems. Rather than walk up to a traditional teller window, members walk up to a station built with a closed circuit camera, monitor and telephone and conduct business as if they were in a drive-thru lane. “Not only does it help with efficiencies and economies of scale since one teller can operate two to three of these stations at once but it also serves as a major security/robbery deterrent since the cash is in a secured central station,” said Grow. “For some members it is a matter of control. We are all so time starved that members view it as an attractive feature if they don’t have to wait in line.” Paul Seibert, principal of Seattle-based strategic facility planning firm Emick, Howard & Seibert, Inc adds that more credit unions are focusing on “choreographing” the member experience. “From strategies down to design elements credit unions are more interested in matching delivery, branches and alternate delivery systems to specific market priorities,” said Seibert. ” In the old days a CU would build a 500 square foot branch and be willing and content to wait 6-8 years for a return on its investment-now credit unions are saying in 18 months to three years that branch has to break even.” Seibert says credit unions are meeting their goals by incorporating the following elements in their design requests: Strong brand translation evident throughout the branch where the physical design/form differentiates and expresses the personality of the credit union; </p> <p>Technology and information cafs that work; </p> <p>Ergonomics for the staff and members; Strong promotion of CUSO products in the branch; </p> <p>Alternative transaction options; Hierarchy of privacy for members and; </p> <p>Increased security. Newport Beach, California-based Financial Partners Credit Union, which recently switched to a community charter turned to EHS and Weber Marketing Group for help in advancing its business goals through convergent branding. The credit union integrated its new name and logo into multiple facets of its business including the branch design, merchandising, and business goals. Since FPCU serves the aerospace industry, a wing canopy was used in the design to emphasize the credit union’s connection to it. The physical environment reinforces the message the marketing department communicates through the Web site, advertising, and any collateral. “ The branch uses a focused balance of high-tech and high-touch that fit with the members’ needs and wants.” “Now credit unions want more than just a pretty interior,” said Seibert. “Credit unions need to produce relationships and measure that and develop that one voice of strong brand translation. You could even say that in order for members to really embrace your brand, credit unions can’t be schizophrenic -everything must be united and display just one personality.” In addition to a growing acceptance of “retail” in credit union branches, John Nicola, vice president of Atlanta-based retail branch design/build and performance enhancement company International Banking Technologies, sees credit unions fine-tuning both the technical and the “high-touch” areas of their branch whether storefronts or stand alone facilities. “People like to buy from people,” said Nicola. “There may be some people more technically savvy than others but the bottom line is building a level of trust and one on one interactions.” It is for this reason that Nicola believes that the success of branches lies in the hands of a well-trained staff and he sees more and more credit unions making the commitment to retail-environment training programs. “Credit union employees are being taught how to act and behave as a retailer as opposed to traditional `banker’ and deliver results on that execution,” said Nicola. Grow agrees and adds, “It is about member education and awareness and not just selling a product but finding out their needs.” In the last two to three years there has been a huge increase to train staff in member relationships and sales says Seibert. “What we are seeing is that credit unions are taking on the role of advisor rather than just an order taker.” [email protected]</p>

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