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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Next time a member is looking for a little tranquility they may want to step into a credit union. Experts say space dedicated purely for the pleasure of members might seem like “wasted space”, but it can create another opportunity for members to make a connection with the credit union. “Consider it a break or taking the edge off the trials and tribulations of everyday life,” said Ralph La Macchia, president/CEO of Milwaukee-based design/build firm La Macchia Group. “Ultimately it depends on the attitude of the credit union and the board if a committed space for the pure enjoyment of members and/or employees is a right fit.” For example, a required retention pond at Brookfield, Wisconsin based First Security Credit Union has turned out to be a place where people come to sit and watch the fountain says La Macchia. His firm will literally bring the outdoors in at the Westby Co-op Credit Union main branch in Westby, Wisconsin by creating an indoor park with a tree and grass in the center of the atrium. Members are first welcomed into a lobby/waiting area with a fireplace and wood cathedral ceiling. The “park” is directly adjacent. “The temperature can get to 20 below zero here in Wisconsin, ” said La Macchia Group Director of Architectural Services Joe Minorik. “ This park-like setting, always at 72 degrees, makes members feel warm and cozy even on cold winter days.” Retail Coordinator/Concept Development Andrea Simler-DeGolier of Cincinnati-based design/build firm DEI adds that “comfort” and “inviting” are increasingly becoming the common buzzwords for credit union facilities. Truliant Federal Credit Union’s Clemmons branch is based on a “Southern Casual” concept complete with a porch, rocking chairs and a pond stocked with fish. Inside the use of sisal carpets, with bead board ceilings, ceiling fans, and warm wood tones invokes a casual, comfy outdoor sunroom feel. Simler-DeGolier says not to underestimate the impact graphics can have on reinforcing whatever environment the credit union is trying to create. “It doesn’t have to be the typical family images, credit unions should not be afraid to use graphics that sell their lifestyle/brand,” said Simler-DeGolier. “For example images like a girl holding out a big hydrangea, or even a glass of lemonade filled with ice instantly evoke an emotion, sense of refreshment which can be tied into the credit union being a place that helps you use your money to enjoy your life.” Seattle-based Emick, Howard and Seibert Principal Paul Seibert agrees adding that appealing to all five senses can pack quite a punch. From the sounds and aromas used in a space to visual “gifts” the combination of connecting all the senses can not only create a new experience but also convey the feel of a brand. “Tranquility is different for everyone, and while it may sound weird to think about relaxation when heading to a credit union it is really part of creating a new experience,” said Seibert. “The idea is that when you come into the financial institution you find relief from the hectic world fiscal worries drift away and it promotes financial health.” This “spa” feel has been incorporated in North Shore Credit Union’s Royal Parks branch in Vancouver, British Columbia with natural elements from wood floors, fresh flowers, and a gentle waterfall behind the conceirge desk to a centerpiece made up of black stones commonly used for massages encased in glass with a visual message board above it. Seibert says the visual combination creates a natural connection that is engaging for members. Such areas don’t have to be elaborate, for example Fort Worth Community Credit Union’s Arlington, Texas branch added misters so as members walk through an arbor leading to the entryway they reduce the temperature by some 15 degrees and as members walk into the branch on the left there is a drinking fountain. Seibert says that fountain has become the centerpiece of the credit union and is very important to members. “Ultimately it depends on the credit union’s culture if this can add value to the member or employee experience,” said Jim Caliendo president/chief operating officer of Pittsburgh-based design/build firm PWCampbell. “The return on assets for these areas is subjectively measured, so if the organization is more service oriented where you want members to stay in the facility for a longer period of time – these environments can encourage that. If the area is more transactional then service translates to quickly getting members in and out.” Caliendo adds that the trend for “quiet spaces” tend to be more prevalent in credit union headquarters or operations centers and are geared toward improving employee productivity and enhance recruiting opportunities. It can range from having lots of windows with a view of the outdoors so employees can get a visual break from the everyday or skylights to let more natural light into the workplace, to providing a wellness area with an indoor track and gym like at the Albany, New York-based State Employees Federal Credit Union. “Being an employee friendly workplace is something they really dedicated themselves to and it is something that helps SEFCU stand out among its competitors and in the community,” said Caliendo. No matter where they are found, experts agree that incorporating calm spaces can be another opportunity to create places where people can change how they feel and can move the credit union from just a place of business to a welcoming environment. [email protected]

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