How Credit Unions Can Connect to the People They Serve

How Credit Unions Can Connect to the People They Serve.

For decades, small town business districts across the country have almost always featured a strong physical presence from a local financial institution, whether it be a local bank or credit union. Next to the courthouse or city hall, these buildings are often identified by their traditional columns and prominent facades of brick or stone. Not only do these structures help establish the fabric of the streetscape, they can often contribute to the social framework of the individuals and communities they serve – supporting the hopes and dreams of generations.

Over the past few years, many credit unions have switched from their SEG charters to community charters and have poised themselves to be a dominant player in the communities they occupy and serve. In this new era of technological advancement for financial institutions, and their increased abilities to bolster their online offerings to attempt to increase member engagement electronically, it is very important that they not lose sight of the true relationship building opportunities that can occur in the local branch setting. Recent industry research from Mintel[1] shows customers have three or more interactions with their financial institutions each month online, in person and via mobile apps – with the coveted millennial demographic reporting they visit branches near their home more than any other age group. All of this means credit unions need to ensure each interaction helps reinforce the value that the local branch provides.

K4 Architecture + Design has collaborated with the leadership of several financial institutions to find ways to embrace and celebrate the town’s history and their community presence as part of their new branches or remodeled facilities, building a stronger connection with the credit union’s members and the entire community. It is important to honor the town’s heritage – and the credit union’s role in it – while still creating a contemporary, functional facility that appeals to multiple generations of members.

Credit unions need to reinforce their value to the cities, towns and villages they serve. Making your credit union’s physical appearance something memorable, and a reflection of your brand, offers an opportunity to reinforce the benefits of banking locally – including working with friends and neighbors they know and trust. In addition, many members report they’d switch financial institutions if their local branch closed. So, there are good reasons to revitalize the branch experience. Here are some ways to make your local branch a bigger part of the communities they serve.

Stand out by blending in. Credit unions often have a presence in the community and are centrally located where members have easy access. When remodeling credit union exteriors, it’s beneficial to have the exterior architectural design blend with existing structures to preserve the legacy of the town center. In a recent branch remodel, K4 converted a very modern and non-contextual building exterior to blend with the traditional streetscape of a small Indiana town. Through the use of traditional design elements, such as a rounded portico with colonial columns and a heavy frieze band with dentils and crown-molded profiles, the newly remodeled exterior commands a presence along the streetscape.

How Credit Unions Can Connect to the People They Serve
Author’s Own Photos & Bella Photographics

Place matters. When you walk into your credit union, does it feel like every other financial institution you’ve seen in any other community? What differentiates you, or sets you apart from your competition? There are volumes of industry research that reports members are more likely to be loyal to local enterprises. A branch’s interior design can offer an opportunity to celebrate the credit union’s position in the community, and the role it has played in a town’s history and growth. Creating displays with archive photos of community milestones can accomplish this.For instance, this branch location served their small community for generations. K4 worked with the client on creating a timeline of the town’s history as part of the interior remodel, establishing this institution as an important part of the community.

How Credit Unions Can Connect to the People They Serve
Bella Photographics

Credit unions also have an opportunity to make their branches more inviting by creating graphic representations of their communities within the branches, and offering coffee, bottled water or other amenities. Make your branches a community destination, a place where people want to come and interact. Create that place for social engagement.

How Credit Unions Can Connect to the People They Serve
Commonwealth CU, Shelbyville, KY – Bella Photographics

Your physical space is where your members have their deepest interaction with your brand and develop that relationship with your staff. Making your space special enhances the value of “membership” by building a strong community and a compelling place to connect.  and isn’t that what “community” should be all about – RELATIONSHIPS? As you consider enhancements, make sure they align with your community and your brand’s story.

Encourage human connections. If members choose to walk into a brick-and-mortar establishment, they have higher expectations. For years they’ve experienced high-touch interactions with “geniuses” eager to help solve their tech problems at the Apple store, and when they walk into your credit union, don’t you think they have similar expectations? They want, and expect, the best sound financial advice that your team can offer to guide them through their personal needs and goals. However, at many credit unions, your branch staff members are stuck behind a tall, imposing “barrier” counter, minimizing the opportunity to make closer connections and develop that relationship with your team members. When reimagining a branch’s interior, consider changing this dynamic by putting team members in more open and inviting types of situations such as behind open Pods or create a conversation area or huddle spaces, to encourage more interaction and consultation, rather than transactions. Your people are your number one asset – make sure your branches showcase them – build that relationship!

Even with the move to more online and mobile banking, it remains more important than ever for credit unions to showcase their value to the communities they serve. Often even minor physical changes can make a big impact on reinforcing this presence.

[1]Mintel research originally appeared in this article:

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