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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Forget about the big bulky desk and a slide projector – more credit unions are busy revamping and redefining what boardrooms will be. “It is important to align the operational strategy with the branch growth when planning the branches,” said Paul Seibert principal of the Seattle-based strategic planning firm Emick, Howard and Seibert. “The board room should reflect the branch concept as well as the cultural convergence so that every aspect of that branch `speaks’ with the same voice and character while supporting the process of board discussions.” During the past three to four years, with more credit unions undergoing renovations, more consideration has been placed on the board room as an expression of the credit union. The key to any successful design is determining the board’s needs, what image they want to present and what function the room itself will serve. Uses today range from an exclusive sanctuary for the board to doubling as training or community rooms. “It cannot be stressed enough the importance of making sure the board understands what it is getting,” said Seibert. “There has to be clear communication between the management team and the board and what can come of these discussions is that this could be one of the more fun, lighter decisions faced by the board. Their input is vital and it also demonstrates just how much management values these volunteers. When the room is complete the board should walk in and say `wow this is perfectly appropriate for what we need to do.’” Much of the changes in boardrooms are also due in some part to a new type of board member. “Over the years we’ve also seen a difference in the training of board members and today they are more cognizant of what goes on day-to-day at the credit union,” said Cynthia Grow visioneer of creativity and imagineering vice president of Cincinnati, Ohio-based design/build firm DEI. “They are taking a more proactive approach to their role so it is even more important that the boardroom combine form with function. It can look pretty but if the board members can’t work there then it is wasted space.” Remember that credit union board members are unpaid volunteers and are all so time starved that if they are willing to spend that time guiding the credit union then the room should be a space that they would enjoy spending time in adds Grow. For most credit unions part of that accommodation involves technology ranging from plasma screens and data port hookups, to superior sound equipment and sophisticated lighting systems. Los Alamitos, California-based Southland Federal Credit Union’s new “e-Board Room” is big on the “wow” factor. Designed by SCU’s senior management team in conjunction with design/build firm KDA Holdings, Inc., the new boardroom is dedicated to improving all aspects of operational efficiencies. Its high-tech features include 13 15-inch flat panel monitors; a 60-inch plasma screen TV; a video distribution unit that outputs images from one computer to all monitors and plasma TV; a hands free speaker phone for conference calling; and a custom made board table with an integrated network dropped into each place setting allowing each board member to bring their laptop and connect to the network. “The old boardroom was probably a 12×12 room with two tables, very uncomfortable chairs and it seated about 12 people but there was not much room to walk around,” said SCU President/CEO Edward Fox. “The new space is about 42 x24, seats 20 comfortably and really our goal in the design was to be able to interact more closely with the board during presentations. There is a free flowing exchange of information now.” The room is multifunctional and is used for training and to support meetings for the LA County Retired Employees Association. With a recent community charter, the credit union is also looking to offer the room for use by other non-profit organizations in the community. Fox adds that the room is also being requested by vendors to showcase their systems. “Our board loves it, and everyone who has used it or even just seen it has only kind and favorable things to say about it,” said Fox. “The opportunities are limitless. We have even opened it up to a local school where they have a group of students that create their own virtual businesses and present it using our electronic facilities.” Fox advises other credit unions looking to move in a similar direction to set the budget first and work back from there. The total SCU’s e-boardroom, including cabinetry, artwork, chairs cost approximately $70,000. According to Seibert, the return on investment in creating a properly designed, highly efficient boardroom where presentations can be transformed into a rich experience is highly substantial over the course of 15 to 20 years. Beyond the technical, board members also appreciate such amenities as a balcony, plants, a view or even a kitchen. It all hinges on understanding the culture of the board. “There was one credit union that wanted to include a bar in the boardroom, it was just part of their culture,” said Grow. “For another credit union lockers were valued. So we installed combination lockers where they could store their reading glasses etc. with little mail slots and placed a gold plaque engraved with each volunteer’s name.” [email protected]

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