What to Consider before Building or Redesigning a Branch Office
Thereís been an ongoing debate for decades about the future of the credit union branch office. In the 1990s, some in the industry were positive online banking would replace brick and mortar. That hasnít happened, and while electronic banking has become more main stream, there are no indications that branch offices will be going away completely.
Branch offices have always been considered the most effective weapon in a financial institutionís arsenal for creating and building relationships with members, as well as cross-selling products and services. They are the one place where people can interact face-to-face with their financial institutions while conducting business. In the end, that customer experience is what differentiates a financial institution.
How does branch office design play into that? The new trend in branch office design is to create spaces that barely look like financial institutions. More and more credit unions and banks are incorporating lounge areas, coffee bars and internet cafesóspaces where people are comfortable and more interested in hanging out, instead of completing a transaction and leaving. Some have even modeled their branches after an Apple Storeóa place full of electronic gadgets where members can play while hopefully learning more about their financial institution.
The question is, are these new spaces accomplishing what they set out to do? More importantly, do these financial institutions know what they want to accomplish with these new, creative spaces?
To truly create a unique experience, financial institutions will have to consider important factors that havenít always been part of the branch design, like demographics. Usually demographics are used to determine the best location for a branch. Today, financial institutions are using them to determine what goes inside the branch. This goes beyond the play areas and free coffee that many already offer. Itís also about knowing more than the ages of the members a branch serves. Itís about understanding their generations and what makes them tick. Which ones are spenders? Which ones are soccer moms? Which ones are the least financially savvy? Instead of crafting a cookie cutter branch to place on any street corner, know who the branch is serving and design that branch accordingly.
Something else to keep in mind is technology integration. This can be tough, because itís hard to know how much is too much. The key is to align technology integration to the goal of the branch, based on the demographics it serves.
Finally, donít forget space and personality. Above all, credit unions must train their staff to represent the brand and effectively communicate the benefits of products and services. That plays into the design of the branch because it is the number one element that can make or break a memberís relationship with a credit union. Space is important, because members need to feel comfortable talking about personal situations in a space where their business cannot be heard by others.
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