Two Branch Prototypes To Serve As ‘Living Labs’

Vancity’s chief operating officer Rick Sielski discusses the credit union’s new retail branch strategy.

Following an 18-month development period, Vancity rolled out a new retail prototype designed to bring its branch experience in line with the credit union’s brand vision.

‘More Than Just a New Branch Design’

Vancity Credit Union in Vancouver, Canada has completely remodeled two of its 58 branches with major brand overhaul. Both Vancity’s South Burnaby and Port Coquitlam branches have been redesigned with what Vancity describes as an entirely new approach to retail delivery.

Rick Sielski, Vancity’s COO, says the redesign is much more than just a branch with a new look and feel.

“This redesign represents a major change for Vancity in the way it does business in its branches,” Sielski says. “It’s about bringing the brand and the business model alive.”

At the heart of Vancity’s brand is the credit union’s sustainable banking philosophy: “making its members good money by putting money to good.”

“We understand what our vision is: building stronger communities,” Sielski explains.

“We’re a community asset, and we want our branches to reflect that in a physical way,” Sielski continues. “This redesign transforms our branches into community hubs.”

As community hubs, Vancity says the new branches provide space for “people to gather, ideas to incubate, and values to be shared.”

Sielski, who served as Vancity’s internal executive sponsor for the prototype project, said the credit union held a half-day training session with all staff in preparation of the new branch rollout. The purpose was to help employees better understand the brand and how it was driving Vancity’s business model all the way down to the retail level.

“We wanted to focus on the ‘why’ before the ‘how’ and the ‘what,’” Sielski explains.

“Members have to see something different,” Sielski continues. “That’s why staff buy-in and engagement is so critical.”

Everything Comes Together in ‘Living Labs’

Once Vancity had defined its new retail experience, the credit union went searching for proving grounds to vet the concept. The journey first started with an intensive evaluation — “lots of data points and lots of analysis,” as Sielski puts it.

What Vancity was looking for was two distinctly different communities to test. Ideally, Vancity would have preferred testing the prototype on a fresh new branch, but the timing didn’t work out. Ultimately two existing branch locations met the credit union’s criteria: both were in neighborhoods surrounded by a good mix of small, local businesses, civic organizations and community groups — big strategic priorities for Vancity.

Although the new branch prototype project only took 18 months to complete from start to finish, Sielski says the project represents the culmination — the final step, if you will — of a broader and more intensive brand realignment the credit union has been working on since 2007.

“Everything we’ve been working on for the last four years — it’s all come together,” Sielski says.

Vancity says the two new branches will serve as “living labs,” a sort of “perpetual beta” where the credit union will continually evaluate new retail approaches, new products and new merchandising strategies.

“We’ll test these design features ,” Sielski says. “As we learn from these changes, we hope to replicate our successes in other branches over time.”

The Gift

The Gift is a venue within the Vancity branch prototype where local merchants and not-for-profit organizations can interact with members and share their story with a brochure, a coupon or a sample of the goods they sell. The Gift provides a prominent location for businesses and community groups to raise awareness and build connections.

Exhibitors can demonstrate their wares for 3-4 days. Vancity has already cycled through a number of different businesses at both branch locations, and has many more queued up.

Somewhat surprisingly, Vancity has opened The Gift floor space up to anyone. Although member businesses are (of course) given preference, Vancity welcomes any small business or local organization as long as they share the credit union’s community-based values.

Christina Grimm from Burnaby business Hagensborg Chocolates giving out free samples and talking to John Alviz, a wealth protection specialist with Vancity, at the newly redesigned South Burnaby Community Branch grand opening on November 28.

Local business Hagensborg Chocolates is featured in some of the digital signage at the newly redesigned South Burnaby Community Branch.

The Gift is a great idea. It gives local businesses a free marketing opportunity while allowing Vancity to express its brand. And heck, it doesn’t hurt if the credit union can pick up a new business banking relationship or two along the way.

Community Stage

The Community Stage free meeting room space designed for use by community groups for events and gatherings of 8-14 people. It includes a large flat screen monitor with PC feed, keyboard and wireless Internet access. While this isn’t necessarily a feature unique to the new prototype, Sielski says The Community Stage has been “more integrated” into the branch experience.

The Think Tank

The Think Tank is a small, professional space for more intimate meetings and brainstorming sessions. The space is open to small business owners, not-for-profit organizations, and members who want to meet with a sustainable wealth management expert.

Other Branch Features & Facts

Both branches include a large scale art installation commissioned from a local artist to reflect and interpret the culture of that community.

A concierge greets members at the entrance, and helps direct visitors to the appropriate space within the branch.

There’s little- to no product-level merchandising in the new branch design. However, Vancity does deploy a 3-screen video wall with rotating messages including community news, profiles of branch staff, and product-specific marketing.

Vancity expects its new coin counter, visible from the ATM lobby, to be popular with members.

The branch prototype was developed with the intention of obtaining LEED certification. LEED is the internationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

Vancity, Canada’s largest community credit union with $16 billion in assets, provides a suite of financial services including consumer retail products, business banking and wealth management.

The credit union partnered with Weber Marketing Group for the branch prototype and merchandising design. Vancity’s agency of record, Wasserman + Partners Advertising, developed the brand.

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