RiverFall’s Investment in Branch Transformation Pays Off
Does your credit union’s name sound welcoming to potential members? Do your retail branches convey a high level of financial expertise and make it easier for your staff to deliver a better level of service? Does your brand resonate with your target market? Alabama’s RiverFall Credit Union brought together a team and asked these questions. The result? A wildly successful market transformation strategy that, after a two year roll-out, is beginning to deliver results.
Formerly Tuscaloosa Teachers Credit Union, the organization embraced a wider market with a completely refreshed brand, name change, and retail branch redesign. Of the evolution, former CEO Greg Sassaman said “I’m about as content as I could be.”
This transformation represents a significant financial investment, but RiverFall and its members are already seeing the benefits just a year after the first branches based on the new prototype design opened. They’ve reported strong growth numbers since the project began, and they often receive positive feedback on the branches from members and local business leaders.
Shaking Up the Status Quo
In the years leading up to the transformation, RiverFall was about average for a small sized credit union in a competitive market. Member growth was around 1% or slightly declining, and loan growth was stable but lagging behind peer groups. They weren’t in trouble, but the team at RiverFall saw the potential for growth through creating a brand that welcomes the community at large and designing branches to better serve members’ needs.
New Retail Environment
RiverFall’s new branch prototype, designed in partnership with Momentum, embraces their new branding to create a more welcoming retail environment. The branch atmosphere blends Tuscaloosa’s past with the community of today, giving the branches a modern hometown feel. Each branch also includes a credit union history wall that gives members context for the name change.
To create a truly open feel the exterior was designed to let as much light in as possible. In the case of the renovated branch, which had old fashioned slit windows and painted brick, the walls were opened to create large windows that cover much of the exterior. The bricks were also stained to give them a warm, natural color, consistent with the new branch locations. The result was a complete visual transformation from a traditional brick and mortar box to an open and inviting storefront.
In the spirit of serving the community, there is also a refreshment area where members can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or water. This is one of the more popular design elements and gets a number of comments from members. By giving them a reason to be there other than their transaction, this type of amenity contributes to the community atmosphere of the branch.
Employee FlexibilityThe new layout reflects RiverFall’s focus on making the member experience as smooth and convenient as possible. The traditional closed off teller lines were a wall between the members and those helping them. Now open Member Service Associate stations (teller pods) break down the barriers and bring members and staff closer together.
A change to video remote drive up technology adds even more flexibility, freeing up dedicated drive through staff. Because they aren’t tied to a drive up window and are able to use AV technology to handle drive up transactions when necessary, they are able to circulate the lobby and interact with members in the branch.
This allows tellers to function as universal associates and interact with their members on a more personal level, and it gives them the flexibility to handle a range of needs and even seamlessly provide ADA Accessibility. This gives the branches a huge boost in efficiency.
It gives us much more versatility and therefore more efficiency,” said Sassaman. “We have a much more engaging, circular retail environment.”
On-demand “hotel offices” compliment the more open design and give the staff even more flexibility. Traditional offices tie up a lot of space that ends up being wasted when not in use, but hotel offices are more member focused and allow all staff the opportunity to sit down with a member in private to give more personalized, one-on-one attention for more consultative services.
New operations space in the main branch gives the back-end staff more room to spread out and breathe, and will accommodate long term growth without worry of running out of space. This ensures that the hotel offices will remain exclusively for member service.
RiverFall also has a unique offering that local businesses and community groups are excited about. Their headquarters branch includes a large meeting space that they make available to the public. The room sees frequent use from groups such as the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and the local Board of Education, as well as local businesses, who use it for meetings and group training events.
RiverFall has seen a significant change in growth numbers since the process began and they’re beating their peer groups in a few categories. Member and employee satisfaction aren’t the only benefits of this transformation.
They’ve seen member growth go from a three year negative trend to over 6% in March 2016, beating the $100M – $500M peer group average and putting them in the 82nd percentile. They’re also seeing high loan growth rates and expect to beat their peer group when numbers are released this quarter.
RiverFall is anticipating significant future growth as well, and new operations space in the main branch is designed to accommodate a number of new employees.
A successful growth strategy can be attributed to a number of factors, but Sassaman says that the branching strategy played a critical role in enabling this success.
Momentum was a game changer,” said Sassaman.