Branch Design: Financial Spa Features Jazz, Arts, Flowers & Concierge

Walk into a North Shore Credit Union branch and the experience is clearly unique. A concierge greets you as you enter. Fresh flowers sit on the counter. Jazz music plays in the background. The smell of coffee surrounds you as you walk past displays from local artists.

North Shore is, in a sense, a credit union for wealthy folks. Vancouver, BC’s North Shore, where the credit union is based, is densely populated with upper-middle class suburbanites. NSCU uses its upscale branches as part of a wider strategy to attract those with over $100,000 in investable assets, a demographic NSCU calls the “mass affluent.”

To create its distinctive branded branch environment, NSCU partnered with the architectural experts at EHS Design and retail branding firm Weber Marketing Group. The two firms translated the credit union’s vision into a truly unique branch environment. The result is one part financial boutique and one part northwest spa. North Shore Credit Union calls it the “iBranch,” where the “i” stands for intimacy.

Traditional teller windows are replaced by open advisory “pods.” The pods create a more intimate member experience, reflecting NSCU’s move from a high-volume transactional environment to a financial institution providing high value services to those with higher net worth.

“Guests” (as they are called) each receive a persona welcome from the branch concierge. This position is much more than a smiling greeter. They not only know most members by name, they know the credit union’s products and services — including investment options — inside and out. It’s central to NSCU’s “financial hospitality” experience.

The interior incorporates natural materials such as stone, local woods and earthy fabrics. Architectural features in the branch include a smooth, gentle waterfall behind the concierge, and a large multimedia wall viewable from all four sides — even outside through the branch’s windows. This “Engagement Wall” is a dramatic, dynamic multimedia collage of materials. There’s a mix of both brand and product messages. Other messages such as NSCU’s community involvement and commitment to the environment are integrated into independent displays within the Engagement Wall.

“Hot spot” technology enables members to freely access the internet with their portable wireless devices, while large-format LCD screens that showcase special announcements.

Each branch is contextually designed to coexist appropriately in its local neighborhood. For instance, the Whistler Branch showcases the elements of local culture, activities and natural surroundings unique to the skiing paradise. There is storage for skis and snowboards, a cozy fire place and a range of snow-themed merchandising display.

“The public side of the branches is very attractive with wood floors, carpeting and natural lighting,” said Fred Cook, North Shore’s Chief Information Officer. “We carry that experience to the back end of the branch, with nice restrooms featuring attractive vanity bowls and nicely painted walls. The lunchrooms are a retreat for the employees, featuring two types of lighting and upscale appliances. And all of the iBranches have music. We pay attention to the total environment.”

“The design has enhanced our members’ experience by allowing us to address their financial needs at all levels, from daily transactions to investment advice in an environment that is at once innovative, imaginative, informative, inspiring, and intimate,” said Cook.

Prior to deploying the new branch prototype, NSCU had $750 million in assets. Five years later, the “emerging wealthy” strategy has ballooned NSCU’s assets to over $2 billion, and they’ve only added two or three branches. (Deposits at one relocated branch topped $15 million in the first year.) They now have 13 branches, with another one opening in early 2011.

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