How American Lake CU Transformed an Old Bank Branch into a Modern Flagship

Feb. 22, 2018 ⋅ Categories: Branching Topics
When American Lake Credit Union decided to open its doors to the community of Lakewood, Washington, their leadership team knew they had the chance to make an impact with a new flagship main office in a non-restricted location. This branch needed to serve as a billboard in the community, support a more conversational retail environment and provide space for back-of-house staff to collaborate with each other.

CEO Kolin McMann quickly found an almost perfect building in a prominent location, an old bank branch of just the right size for their retail and operations space. There was just one catch, the bank building was very worn, and its dated architectural design didn’t come close to supporting American Lake’s brand or mission. Teardown and new construction wasn’t in the budget, but the Momentum team came up with a plan to deliver a like-new renovation at half the cost.  

Let’s take a look at how this dated building was transformed into American Lake Credit Union’s modern flagship branch.

The Building

One of American Lake’s biggest challenges to expanding outside of SEG groups was a lack of awareness. Their new branch needed to stand out and help American Lake differentiate itself from other financial institutions in the area.


The existing building consisted of bricks, painted cinder blocks, and an old-fashioned overhang that cast shadows on the building and blocked light from coming in the windows. The building also lacked surface area for prominent signage.

The Momentum team started by removing the overhang and extending the façade to more than double the ceiling height. This gave the building a very tall and prominent profile, and provided a billboard-like surface for much larger signage.

Opening up the exterior also made the branch activity more visible from outside, which has the effect of creating a more inviting feeling. When passers-by see the branch, they aren’t just seeing a bank. They’re seeing conversations and interactions between their neighbors.

Momentum covered the bricks and cinderblocks with wood textured and dark gray cement board panels, giving the building a fresh, natural appearance that fits in with the atmosphere of Lakewood and the credit union’s brand identity.

Many less noticeable, but just as significant upgrades make the building significantly more energy efficient, comfortable, and reduce operating cost. These included new heating and cooling systems, insulated windows, a new roof, and LED lighting.

The result is a modern building that stands out as a landmark in the neighborhood and is noticed and remembered by people driving or walking by.

Drive-Up and Walk-Up Feature

The bank served drive-up customers with a traditional window at the rear of the branch, and there were no after-hours or walk-up services.

Momentum removed the drive-up window and replaced it with a remote vacuum tube system. Though drive-up members are still supported in the same place, the system frees branch staff from the window and allows them to serve both in-branch and drive-through traffic from the teller pod area.

A walk-up ATM and after-hours depository replaced a side window, providing 24-hour access to banking services and offering a convenient option for members walking through the neighborhood. A new rigid awning protects people standing at the ATM from the elements and contributes to the building’s modern look.

Retail Space

The purpose of a financial institution lobby has fundamentally changed in the time since the old bank was built. Where traditional branches relied on formal interiors focusing on teller-line transactions, today’s customers have come to expect brighter and more open environments where they can have less formal and more conversational interactions with staff.

The back of house was also in need of updates, with a lack of collaborative spaces and a closed off, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Momentum worked with the American Lake team to develop a purpose-driven branch environment that invites members to come in and interact with staff in several different ways.

Higher Value Transactions

For the new branch, American Lake adopted a hybrid staffing model that combines the high transaction volume capacity of a teller line with the staff mobility and dynamic member interactions of universal associates.

The centerpiece of the branch is a large teller pod where the branch staff can conduct transactions with both members in the branch and at the drive-up. The teller pod is open on the sides, freeing staff to walk into the lobby area to greet and have conversations with members or teach them how to use American Lake’s digital services at the tech bar.

Two open desks in opposite corners of the lobby create places where members can sit down with staff and discuss more complex issues. One of the back offices was opened up to the front of house with glass walls and a door to serve as a place where members can sit down with the branch manager for more private conversations.

The result is a friendly retail space where members are greeted as they walk in the door, which can handle rushes with ease, and provides immediately visible options for several different types of interactions in a relatively small space.

Visual Design

The materials and colors were carefully selected by Momentum’s interior designers to embody American Lake’s brand identity and create an inviting atmosphere. Every surface from the overhead beam covering to the fabric on the chairs are coordinated.  

Accent and background colors complement the brand colors, making them pop and giving the branch environment a more vibrant feeling. The colors and patterns not only complement the brand, but they also create a natural feeling that connects the American Lake brand identity with the identity and character of the surrounding community and the Pacific Northwest. Wood covers the now exposed ceiling beam as well as the branch floor, and greens and blues bring out a feeling of the surrounding forests and lakes.

It all comes together to create a branch environment that feels more like a part of the community than just a bank.

More than the Sum of Components

What made this transformation so successful was that it was more than just a renovation. American Lake Credit Union approached it as a major change initiative and brought everyone on board from the beginning. The American Lake staff and executive team developed the staffing model alongside the designers so that each process could inform the other. The designers worked with the construction team to understand the limits of what was possible with both the structure of the building and budget considerations. Everyone’s voice was heard throughout the project.

The result of this high level of collaboration is something that is equal to more than just the materials that went into the project and the sum of each person’s contributions, it’s a space that is perfectly suited for the people using it and advances American Lake’s overall strategic goals.

Learn More

To learn more about this main office transformation office, check out this interview with American Lake CEO Kolin McMann where he discusses the process and results. And to learn more about the process of kicking off a branch transformation project, check out our new five-part Quick Start Your Branch Transformation Project series of step-by-step guides.

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