Credit Union Real Estate Decisions:
COVID and Your Culture

Call me “old school,” but I still like to read.

Mainly about business, especially as it pertains to commercial real estate in the credit union industry. And lately, a lot of what I’ve been reading is about how COVID is changing – well, everything – when it comes to commercial real estate as we know it.

Much of what I’ve read has some value. But in the end, each article leaves me asking the same basic question. That is, “how does this information apply to Rubicon’s credit union clients?” That’s because almost no one writing about the commercial real estate industry fully understands the credit union industry. They see CU’s as banks so what’s good for a bank is good for a credit union, right?


Credit unions are uniquely different which means that the impending post-COVID challenges they face regarding their staffs and workplaces are also different.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I frequently focus on “ideal memberships of the future.” Meaning how we help our credit union clients look beyond their membership base today to the one they can best build upon and serve tomorrow.

But due to COVID, the opportunity – no, I’ll say the requirement – has emerged to also focus on the “ideal staff and workplaces of the future.” A future that is rocketing toward us like a meteor.

I’ll be blunt. Credit unions typically pay less in salaries than most banks. Yet many seasoned, committed, consummate professionals spend years — if not their entire careers – happily working for CU’s.

Why is that?

Because working in the credit union industry personally resonates with them. They feel a sense of satisfaction in helping members with important financial matters. And they find purpose and gratification in being part of something that feels like a community rather than a commodity.

But we also live in a world that has been suddenly yanked from its moorings and tens of thousands of people who work in the financial industry are taking a look at their jobs in a new light and wondering “what if?”

What if I want to move my family away from the city, but my employer wants me to return to its urban headquarters full-time? Will I be passed over for promotion if I work virtually while my peers are working on-site? What are the future safety protocols to protect me and my colleagues? How will I be trained in new processes or effectively manage and mentor my staff going forward?

How? When? Where? What if?

A logical reaction to these questions will be for your staff to begin comparing apples-to-apples. (i.e., other credit unions). Or even oranges for that matter. (i.e., other banks or employers in other businesses altogether). In short, in these days of remote revolution and virtual everything, will long-time employees remain loyal if they’re not getting the answers they want and need regarding their futures?

And think of the next wave of employees. Of the Gen Z’ers who are putting as much stock in pursuing satisfying experiences as they are in titles and salaries. Will they want to work in their “parents” 9-to-5 pre-COVID workplace? The credit union industry talks a lot about the member experience. So, what about the employee experience?

All of this … and I mean ALL of it … will ultimately have a direct impact on the people that drive your business each and every day — your members! Your members today and your ideal members of tomorrow.

Unless your staff remains satisfied with the cultural and operational direction of your organization going forward, their career satisfaction will suffer and many will leave. And make no mistake that their departure will impact your members thereby jeopardizing their loyalty and leading to a decline in your membership. Period.

So, the big questions confronting credit union leadership today shouldn’t simply be about self-service in-branch technology, re-designed HQ floor plans and Plexiglas between workstations. Rather, it needs to be about culture. About listening to your employees, optimizing communications, bending or even breaking old processes and instilling a new passion for your staff.

Operational adjustments are important, but they must come as a result of a holistic strategy fully supported by your corporate culture. A culture focused on the new realities of safety, opportunity, flexibility and the existential satisfaction of your people.

At Rubicon, we stand ready to help craft and deliver important real estate solutions. But right now, those solutions can only be effective if they are developed with the rapidly changing needs of your employees and members firmly in mind.

Corey A. Waite is a leading commercial real estate advisor to the financial services industry. As Founder and CEO of Rubicon Concierge Real Estate Services, Corey works directly with senior executives coast-to-coast to deliver strategic plans and transactional services focused on optimizing the needs of employees, clients and members.

Still Banking on Branches

Still Banking on Branches

Silicon Valley Bank (and others), inflation, fed interest rates and future job uncertainty are all fueling concerns about and within the banking industry. Yet, in the face of all this uncertainty, credit unions and community banks are still expanding their branch networks. Why? And are they going about it in the right way?

Your People, Your Workspace, Your Future

Your People, Your Workspace, Your Future

Nearly every firm we know has — or is in the process — of evolving its workplaces in order to recruit and retain key talent and grow their business. See what one of the world’s leading consulting firms has to say on the matter.

Flexibility as Fact

Flexibility as Fact

For all its angst, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change throughout the credit union industry. CU’s of all size are embracing innovation and re-considering everything … especially when it comes to design and purpose of their branches.

Satisfaction as a Service

Satisfaction as a Service

In the race to anticipate the future and stay ahead of the competition, it’s important to recognize that the “next shiny thing” is not really what your members want most. What they want is satisfaction.

M&A and the Art and Science of Real Estate Due Diligence

M&A and the Art and Science of Real Estate Due Diligence

In the face of so much uncertainty, the key to future growth – if not survival — for many credit unions is through mergers and acquisitions. Often times, the ultimate success of am M&A transaction is based on the true value of the seller’s real estate portfolio – and this is where assessment and due diligence isn’t always what it should be.