Facilities are capitalized improvements that represent a significant portion of a credit union’s operating budget. Even though depreciated, occupancy is a significant expense in a budget, generally just below personnel and information technology. Often, the facility is seen just as the home for staff and the place where members go for services. Many credit unions view new construction and capital improvements as “overhead” rather than as performing assets that contribute to the bottom line. But your credit union facility is more than just a building to house your staff – it is the most visible instrument you have for serving your current members and attracting new ones. It is an investment that should provide a return in multiple ways, and pay for itself time and time again. For the facility to provide a high return and add to the credit union’s strategic goals, it must have six key characteristics. The location must be convenient to members’ workplaces, residences, or a major shopping destination. These tend to be the places individuals repeatedly visit throughout a week. Without this convenience, the credit union becomes a destination unto itself, which is very inconvenient and unfortunately, unlikely to happen. A credit union can ensure its future location will be convenient through an exacting process of location analysis and site selection before building. Location analysis determines proximity to key destinations of members and desired members. The site must be accessible. Poor accessibility means the site is difficult to enter and exit, difficult to navigate, and often congested. Poor accessibility results from lack of planning in the site selection stage and inexperienced site planners, those unfamiliar with the needs of credit unions. Good accessibility in a site occurs when it is easy to enter/exit, and there is ample parking and ease of traversing the site. Again, in today’s increasingly harried world, ease of access can win- or lose- members of all ages. Site accessibility is best studied during the site acquisition process, not after it. The facility must be consistent with the external image you are trying to convey. Every credit union has a brand identity, be it dynamic, traditional, progressive, established, etc. The facility, both inside and out, must communicate this to its members and the community at large. Often a credit union can change public perception simply by virtue of a new location or facility.. for example, by replacing a tired old facility in an inconvenience location with a progressive new facility strategically located to serve its members. The result is that the credit union is seen as being responsive to its current and future members by delivering a facility that makes their use hassle-free. The facility should be designed to keep staff levels, or FTEs, at their optimal level. Your new facility should be designed to avoid duplication of services. This can occur through strategic placement of areas and staff, and by understanding that personnel costs are the highest operating expense for a credit union. Incremental investment in the facility can have a significant result in decreasing the need for additional staff, resulting in a large return on investment. One simple example is by locating the lobby and drive-up teller areas close to one another. The location and facility must provide for long-term growth. Taking a long-term perspective means locating your facility in an area of town convenient to your target market and consistent with your credit union’s goals. The site should be large enough to allow for expansion of the facility. And, the facility itself must be designed to allow for expansion as well. An example is selecting a site that allows for the facility to be expanded by 25 to 50% in the long term. The facility should be considered a billboard. Your facility is your most visible marketing tool, an aspect that is often overlooked. Again, this requires a carefully thought-out location and site plan. A facility that is off the main thoroughfares, poorly planned, and/or inconsistent with your desired external identity will have, at best, a neutral effect, and at worst, a very negative effect on public perception. A facility that is a positive billboard creates interest in the members and the general public, and reflects a solid and progressive presence. The opposite of an asset is a liability. As expensive as facility investment can be and as long-term as these decisions are, it is ever more crucial that the facility be a major contributing asset to the credit union’s financial picture. It’s been said that one key to success is location, location, location. However, particularly in the case of credit unions, it’s what you do at that location, both internally and externally, that determines how quickly your business will grow. Growth is easier if the facility is an asset.