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SAN DIEGO – The opening of the Carmel Mountain Ranch branch is literally a dream come true for USE Credit Union President/CEO Linda Baughman. “I’m a 30 year banking veteran and even before I came here to the credit union I’d been thinking about how to revolutionize what goes on in a branch,” said Baughman. “That old platform and branch design had not changed for years but I knew society, people and cultures have changed and the system of how we bank was in need of a complete rehaul.” The credit union’s size, Baughman says, made it easier to try something new than it would be for any of the mega-banks like Bank of America. Conducting years of research, drawing from her prior experience, looking to retail environments like Starbucks or Gap and thinking about member movement within a space and meeting member needs all helped Baughman develop plans for a new “one-stop banking” approach to the branch experience. At the heart of this concept are dialogue pods, which replace the traditional multiple teller station counter. Operated by “universal” staffers, who can handle a variety of transactions from routine transactions to opening a new account or applying for a loan, the “pods” are designed to breakdown the usual division between various departments within the branch. In this branch the only “specialty” zone is reserved for mortgage loan officers. “I’m the worst customer for any retail service and I have a low tolerance for things that don’t make sense. So when we started thinking about member interactions I know it frustrates me as a consumer if after conducting transactions with a teller I then have to go to a waiting area to talk to someone else about a loan application,” said Baughman. “In this model everyone is cross-trained and it made sense that since a mortgage loan is more complicated there would be people dedicated to that but if there is a line they too are able to step in and run some transactions. The idea is to build relationships through more personal and comfortable interactions.” Dialogue pods include frosted glass for privacy and a computer screen that swivels so that member and staffer work side by side to accomplish transactions. “What’s great about the pods is that it gives members a sense that they own their data-we’re not hiding it and from a privacy perspective the distance between pods is three times the distance at a standard teller window,” said Baughman. The branch design continues the open, retail feel with a children’s play area complete with bean bags and books, an Internet cyber caf and a financial information center featuring printed selections from USE CU’s consumer financial education program “Money Matters with Linda B.” Baughman’s program, which helps consumers up their financial IQ airs on San Diego’s News Radio AM 600, KOGO and KGTV Channel 10 as well as wsradio.com, which broadcasts worldwide on the Internet. Splashed with USE CU’s brand colors of red, black and silver, the branch also uses red drop lights and contemporary red leather chairs to further create a bistro ambiance that invites conversation. The wall art of a five-foot brushed aluminum penguin logo and four-foot service quality seal help visually reinforce the credit union’s brand commitment to “Unbeatable Service Excellence.” The tuxedo-clad penguin has been USE CU’s brand icon for a few years says Baughman. “In addition to looking like they are ready to serve, penguins are the most social of animals and they operate as a team if a group of penguins moves and one gets separated the whole herd stops and goes back to find their missing member,” said Baughman. “It is that sense of belonging we want our members to have and as a financial cooperative the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. Membership means something and we want to be their trusted financial partner and show them the value of belonging.” The Carmel Mountain Ranch branch will be a prototype for new branches. As for the existing branches, while not every USE CU branch can fit dialogue pods or kids’ areas, Baughman says the one-stop banking concept can and will be applied across all branches. By the end of 2006 all branch staffers will become universal service representatives. “We make the most use of staff and in the long term what we hope to gain is to eliminate the stigma of `I’m just a teller’ and help cut down on teller turnover,” said Baughman. “We tested this in a Sacramento branch that had a fixed teller line but the staff was cross trained to do it all and they have doubled their projections. Once you develop relationships and one person can do anything the member needs, that is what happens.” A team environment is also important to providing what Baughman describes as richer relationships with members and to that end the new facility includes a warm, spacious staff room. “Too often the staff room feels like a space that was just crammed in as an afterthought,” said Baughman. “We wanted this to be an environment that encourages brainstorming and teamwork. Too often there is a separation of the operations and lending world-that wouldn’t work here with the fullness of the staff’s job the whole group has to work as one and be ready to help out whenever and wherever needed. Building the interpersonal staff relationships helps build the staff-member relationships.” Baughman says the collaborative atmosphere helped make this branch design and build the smoothest yet. “We had everyone together in the actual space from the very beginning,” said Baughman. “The internal USE CU team, vendors, construction and design folks, telecommunications people-we had them all onsite on specific days-that way with the input we didn’t end up with a plug where it wasn’t needed, etc.” Rather than rush to open by a set deadline, Baughman says the team focused on taking the time to “open right without sabotaging what we were working on accomplishing.” Staffers completed an additional two weeks of in-branch training to ensure there were no opening day glitches and to work on their flow and member approach. “We wanted to make sure that when a member walks through the door they don’t feel like they are under assault and need a shield,” said Baughman. “So we ran through a few role play scenarios during training so staffers would think of the branch as a family room and welcome the member as a friend who just walked through the door.” While the branch officially opened its doors in October with festivities including performances by members of a local Rock and Tumble Gym; live remote radio broadcasts; free food provided by a local pizzeria and demonstrations by the local fire station; a ribbon cutting ceremony was recently held on Nov. 3. In addition to tours of the new facility, the reception featured live entertainment, hors d’oerves and complimentary drinks including the credit union’s signature red Penquintini. “We are lucky to have such an amazing marketing team in-house,” said Baughman. “They came up with the idea of having signature drinks a few years ago at a branch in Chula Vista. Since that branch would serve a huge Hispanic community we had signature margaritas and the members loved it. It went over so well they came up with the Penguintini for this branch.” Baughman says while it is still early the member response has been only positive and members have been saying they’d stop in the branch just to have their coffee. [email protected]

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