3 Banking Makeovers Spotlight Web, Branch, Brand Best Practices

The ever-popular 'makeover' concept works well for showcasing the latest thinking on branding, web design and branch concepts. Two credit unions and a bank eagerly applied for a shot at having experts suggest improvements. The results may get others thinking it's time for a makeover.

The huge popularity of the “Fixer Upper” TV show proves that people love to watch the pros take something dated and tired and turn it around complete with a big surprise reveal to the participants.

That explains why the “Makeover” sessions at The Financial Brand Forum are crowd pleasers year after year. And it shows why many financial institutions apply to have their brand, website or branch network “made over.” Who wouldn’t want free advice from top experts in the field? But it does take some guts to put your institution under a spotlight, warts and all. And it also takes guts for the pros to present their recommendations to these institutions for the first time live on stage.

Three makeovers took place live at The Forum this year, providing valuable take-aways for both the participants and the audience. All three are summarized here with additional commentary from interviews conducted by The Financial Brand.

Makeover No. 1: Becoming A Living Brand

Auto racing provides a good analogy for financial institution brands. “Racing drivers need to look 500 feet ahead in order to set up for the next turn and ultimately to win the race,” says Ralph La Macchia, President of design, build and branding firm La Macchia Group. “It’s the same for banks and credit unions with customer expectations moving so fast,” said La Macchia, an avid amateur race-car driver.

Affinity FCU
Basking Ridge, New Jersey
$3.4 billion in assets
170,860 members
21 branches

New Jersey-based Affinity Credit Union began as Western Electric Federal Credit Union about 80 years ago and has had several name changes since. In doing research for its makeover, the La Macchia team found that what made Affinity so successful over the last couple decades is evolving. The credit union has long served an affluent, educated clientele, but the geographic market it serves has shifted younger and more diverse, according to Danielle Havlicek, Senior Creative Director, who presented the makeover along with Tim Klatt, Director of Retail Strategies, and Rachel Scott, Brand Evangelist.

The Affinity name itself still works, Havlicek states, adding that the credit union’s marketing is spot on, but “it’s not translated into their facilities whatsoever.” The La Macchia team also felt Affinity’s logo is outdated. La Macchia Group showed two concept directions for the logo as part of the presentation.

As they grow, many financial institutions tend to become siloed. “If marketing, facilities and executive staff are not all working together, you’re going to have a disconnect, Havlicek states. “And that’s what Affinity is suffering from right now.”

“We encourage clients to constantly evolve — to become a living brand,” she continues. “That means being adaptable, open-minded, and responsive to consumer needs — understanding how things are changing.”

Part of the presentation was a candid assessment of Affinity’s branch network. “We really believe that your building is a great opportunity for brand expression. It’s your billboard,” says Havlicek. She and Klatt showed examples of how the brand could be experienced within the branch.

“Many of their branches are dated looking — using burgundy colors and heavy, dark wood,” says Havlicek. “That look would be intimidating to the Millennials now coming into their marketplace.” Other branches, however, have been renovated, including the installation of interactive teller machines (ITMs), tablets and even a video wall.

Havlicek says that the newer facilities are “really cool, but the one thing that’s missing is the Affinity brand. You could walk in there and think, ‘Is this a Chase branch?'”

The firm showed how a light refresh to the logo could make dramatic impact. “It’s just amazing what a little bit of cosmetic change can do to strengthen brand communication across all channels,” says Havlicek.

Affinity liked the first concept, according to Klatt and Havlicek. Both stories resonated, they said, but the second concept was a little more of a departure for the credit union.


  • Never assume that there’s more equity in your brand than there really is. Constantly evaluate that premise.
  • Rebranding done properly is not cheap. There should be solid business reasons for rebrand. It’s not just to look cool.
  • It’s not necessary to take a completely new direction. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a course correction.
  • You don’t have to change something every year, but definitely get feedback regularly. That way after ten years you won’t be surprised to learn that you’ve become irrelevant.

Read More:

Makeover No. 2: Web Site Leaves Money On The Table

“It’s not easy to have your website up on display and analyzed in front of an audience, says Marne Franklin, CEO of Uncommn Marketing Partners. Franklin and two associates analyzed the site of AOD Federal Credit Union. “Their site is pretty typical for a lot of credit unions their size,” says Franklin. “It’s not terrible by any stretch but it’s not as optimized as it could be for mobile devices, and there’s a lot of money left on the table in terms of missed conversion opportunities.”

Oxford, Alabama
$300 million in assets
33,854 members
6 branches

The credit union’s current site is very text heavy and is not a great experience on a mobile device, according to Uncommn’s review. It requires many scrolls to view.

AOD wants to present itself as a modern financial option for people in their market. “They’re a decent size credit union and they want to convey that in a way that’s compelling and friendly but doesn’t come across as small,” says Franklin. “They’re well aware, as everyone is, that the world lives on a mobile device.

Two Uncommn developers, Kaia Vaughn and Alex Vanhaasteren, created two concepts for a new web design focusing on the member experience and the mobile experience. “We wanted to make sure that if a consumer is on the go they still get the full experience on their phone, but we also wanted to replicate the desktop version as much as possible,” says Franklin. The concepts were also ADA compliant.

AOD FCU home page option 1


AOD FCU home page option 2

Franklin says AOD liked both concepts and said they would likely take elements from both — some of the icons and the navigation.


  • A modern web design is important because Google indexes mobile-friendly sites higher. Even smaller financial institutions have to worry about Google because they’re competing with Rocket Mortgage and SoFi.
  • Think twice about letting the relative of the president design your website. They may move away leaving you not knowing who has access to their own site.

Read More:

Makeover No. 3: After Many Mergers, A Branch Smorgasbord

“Our employees are special. Some of our branches are embarrassing,” Lauren Hendricks, Managing Director Marketing & Communications for United Bank told The Financial Brand following a branch makeover presentation in which she participated. Her statement was candid, although the situation she describes is hardly unique. Probably at least half the financial marketers in the U.S. would say something similar, if they were honest.

In United Bank’s case, the institution has grown rapidly through acquisition — 31 deals over 40 years. Only two of its 140 branches are de novos, says Hendricks. That makes it a good candidate for a branch makeover.

United Bank
Fairfax, Va.
$19 billion in assets
142 Branches

Adrenaline, a brand and digital experience agency, took up the challenge of helping United Bank optimize its branch network. “The bank was very interested in what their branches could look like, especially because they have grown so rapidly and their network is pretty diverse,” says Chris Howe, SVP of Experience Design at Adrenaline.

After researching the bank’s situation, the agency created a recommendation in three tiers: refresh, transition, transformation. They called the transformation stage, North Star. It’s aspirational — five years out, according to Howe. In the makeover presentation they depicted the tiers using one of United Bank’s branches showing three degrees of upgrade, the final one being a complete tear down and rebuild. The other two involved commensurately fewer changes, and less cost.

Howe and Heidi Cron, Director of Architecture and Interior Design, used a series of vignettes to paint a picture of different moments along the customer journey — sketches of the types of interactions they could bring to life for United Bank.

For the interior, Adrenaline designed a blend of traditional with modern, infused with technology. Where customers use wearable devices, or through use of beacon technology, the customer service person can greet them and know why they’re there.

Larger hosting areas created by removing or shifting furniture and sometimes walls, can serve double duty for seminars or other events. In one iteration it could be adjacent to windows to be seen by people.

“Stop thinking about waiting rooms,” says Cron, “and think of them instead as areas for hosting your customers — places to engage them in conversations over coffee.” Hendricks particularly liked the hospitality area and the ability to use it for other reasons than waiting. “We do a lot of community meetings,” she says. “To have a space for them would be great.”

Read More:

One techno twist used during the presentation was having the client give the audience a virtual tour. Hendricks donned VR goggles that were wirelessly connected to the projector. As she turned her head to view different parts of the new branch’s interior, the audience could see what she was looking at on a large screen.

Overall, Hendricks loved a lot of the concepts but commented that she didn’t think the bank was quite ready to depart completely from the norm. “We’re a very traditional bank.”


  • There is not enough communication across silos. Brand and marketing need to be talking to operations and facilities, and they need to be talking to sales and HR. They all need to be talking to IT.
  • A critical error is thinking about the “store of the future” as an event. The future never arrives. The pace of change is only getting faster.
  • If your current branch setup doesn’t allow you to have the customer conversations you need, what is the cost of having 30% of your branch network operate that way?

This article was originally published on . All content © 2024 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.