Rubicon Latest Insights

One Chance to Make a First Impression

In the dating world, people often decide whether someone is a potential match within the first seven seconds. The same goes for credit unions. If a branch looks uninviting from the outside, odds are it is on the inside as well.

Last year, as part of their strategic growth initiative, a $1 billion credit union engaged us to help them analyze their current seven branch portfolio. How were their locations trending demographically? What other submarkets should they consider? How did they compare to other nearby credit unions? We took on the task in a way that both surprised and, most importantly, informed them. What surprised them was our methodology. Even though we are known for our best-in-class proprietary market research platform, we did far more than analyze their portfolio through virtual means. Instead, we traveled to their market and took our efforts to the street. In the dating world (as I vaguely recall), it’s said that people often decide whether someone is a potential match within the first seven seconds. The same goes for credit unions. If a branch looks uninviting from the outside, odds are it is on the inside as well. So, before stepping into any of our client’s branches, we took an in-depth look from the outside and noted our findings on a scorecard with key criteria rated on a scale of 1-to-5. With pen and paper, go figure. Our metrics included signage visibility; ingress and egress; parking; co-tenancy; competitive penetration. And importantly, how did the branches look? For example, in some cases the exterior signage – while of sufficient size – was obstructed by greenery or hardscape features. In other cases, branches were in high traffic areas but situated in locales barely visible to the public. And in cases where visibility was sufficient, parking was bad and access was worse. In short, before prospective members even entered some of the branches, they were getting the message that this credit union may not be the best match for them. Then we went inside. Using the same approach, we scored the branches not only on their interior appearance – layout, lighting, décor, technology – but also in the way we were greeted as human beings with numerous other banking options. Overall, our client scored well — better in some branches than others. But that inconsistency was also a problem. Their brand that was presented as warm and welcoming in one location was dated and distant in another. And perhaps most revealing was that a key competitor – yes, we surveyed them as well — did not suffer from appearance or service inconsistency. Each branch was modern, highly visible and, upon entering, conveyed a commitment to both their staff and their members alike. Granted, these findings may seem more like marketing and operational issues rather than real estate concerns. And they are. But these variables are all directly related to our client’s real estate and so we analyze them as part of our service and purpose. Most importantly, our client is now seriously assessing these findings as part of their overall growth strategy. As in dating, looks aren’t everything. But when a competitor shows up appearing sharp and interested while another other shows up in sweats and a mullet, who’s going to win out?

Corey A. Waite is the leading commercial real estate advisor to the credit union industry. As Founder and CEO of Rubicon Concierge Real Estate Services, Corey works directly with senior Credit Union leadership to deliver strategic plans and transactional services focused on headquarters and branch locations alike. With a clear understanding of the unique mission and challenges of the Credit Union industry, Rubicon’s expertise and service is truly unique and value-added. You can reach the Rubicon Team at +1 (213) 462-2810.

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