Preceding the Puck
Credit Union Real Estate Reimagined

The day I sat down to write this was January 19, 2021.  Coincidentally, the one-year anniversary of the first diagnosed COVID-19 case in the U.S.

Like everyone, I didn’t know this was the beginning of the greatest health crisis of our lifetime.  Like those in my immediate circle that day, I was focused on work and the other tasks and interests that fill our daily lives.  But like everyone else, I would soon be focused on other pressing challenges with far more questions than answers.

Among them, how would my credit union clients be impacted?  How would the economy be impacted?  Would the people I know and care about be impacted and literally survive?  As it turned out I, along with four members of my family, ultimately contracted COVID-19.  Thankfully, we all came through it and our clients have not only survived, they adapted and are thriving.

While at the pandemic’s outset no one could anticipate the results they would achieve in 2020 and 2021, I was confident about one important thing.  Our credit union clients were — from a real estate standpoint — physically in the right places thanks to the pre-COVID plans we helped craft for them over the years.

And we did this by anticipating the future.

What Made “The Great One” Great

Wayne Gretzky — arguably the greatest hockey player of all-time — once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is.”  Now compared to a hockey puck, the commercial real estate industry moves at the pace of a glacier.  The reasons for this are varied.  The main one being that most real estate brokers are fundamentally disconnected from their clients and operate very much as they have for decades.

Brokers do well – at least financially — by closing deals.  Conversely, their clients — especially those in the financial industry — do well by taking the time necessary to critically analyze all the data they can absorb to make well-informed decisions.  In today’s world, this is more vital than ever.

This deep dive analytical approach doesn’t work for brokers:  Too much effort, takes too long, and they don’t have the credit union industry knowledge or tools.  So they provide cursory information focused mainly on availabilities and rates at that given moment.  This too often results in credit union leadership operating in a vacuum void of vital information required to make truly informed decisions.

Conversely, we help our clients skate to where the puck is going guided by a defendable and diverse information-rich roadmap.

Many credit union executives who have been involved in real estate transactions are familiar with “heat maps.”  This is a tool commonly used by brokers to show rudimentary data such as household incomes, education levels and drives times.  While important, this information is basic, easily assembled and usually presented as a static graphic.

But like a puck careening across the ice, the future isn’t static.

Going Deep on Data

For this reason, we have invested our time and resources to develop a robust and – I’m going to brag here and say – un-matched proprietary research platform.  One that allows us to dynamically present the direction of any credit union market in a multitude of ways.  It’s called Rubicon REVEAL.

Today, research technology exists that enables us to aggregate and analyze any region at a near-atomic level.  So, if you ask how many adult households within a ten minute drive of a potential branch have a high-rate mortgage, school age kids, own older cars, are shopping for solar panels and are Pittsburgh Penguin fans, we have that data.  And that’s just the tip of demographic iceberg.

Rubicon REVEAL makes it possible to inform the future of credit union real estate decision making as never before; vast mother lodes of timely information that we are continually incorporating into our proprietary platform.  Mining this data enables us to quantify the difference between an outlier and a trend and to determine if that trend is suspect or sustaining.  i.e., the kind you skate toward or away from.

In the past, the focus was where the current members were located.  With today’s technology and data, we are to determine where the ideal future members will be located.  Simply put, guiding our clients to what will be as opposed to what was.

Where are You Going and Why?

But no matter how much information exists, the quality of the answers stems directly from the depth and quality of the questions being asked.  That’s why, for us, asking the right questions is where the process always begins.  And not simply real estate-oriented questions but existential questions about your purpose, members, community and sustainability.  Call it twenty-plus years of credit union experience melded with the desire to never stop learning and applying new tools.

In hockey jargon, this step — “the face-off” — starts by fully understanding our clients’ membership profile going forward.  Not the one they have today – that’s where the puck already is – but the profile of their ideal membership tomorrow.

Case in point.  A client with aggressive growth goals located in an upper mid-west manufacturing region recently gave us two membership profiles:  Their current profile and the ideal one they envision going forward.

Today: Where The Puck Is Tomorrow: Where The Puck’s Going
Age: 50+ Age: 32+
Education: Mostly HS; some college Education: Equally college and HS
Profession: Hands-on manufacturing Profession: Manufacturing technology
Collar: Mostly blue; some white Collar: Mostly white; some blue
Financial Status: Near or empty nester. Established homeowner. Declining debt.  Conservative spender. Financial Status: Growing family. Aspiring or new homeowner. Growing debt. Confident spender.

Obviously, two distinctly different profiles ultimately requiring the need for a different real estate strategy:  One that far exceeds any plans typically developed by transactional brokerage firms.  This strategy, reinforced by predictive analytics, will ensure that the decisions being made in the near future will pay dividends for our client and their members for years to come.

The Same but Very Different

For the balance of the decade – I refuse to predict the world beyond that – will human beings still transact inside of branches?  Yes.  (And credit union members will do so more than traditional bank customers).  But will the frequency of their in-person visits decline?  Again, yes.

On-line transacting is a genie that will never go back in the bottle.  This is a sea change that will surely impact real estate decisions, but the information is there to help us understand how and how much.

The analytics will also be there to understand the ongoing connection between shopping and banking, a synergistic relationship akin to burgers and fries.  Simply put, as brick and mortar retail evolves, so too will brick and mortar banking.  Again, all of which can be measured by compelling metrics that transcend today’s basic real estate parameters.

In spite of its horrible effects, COVID-19 has also surely accelerated the future.  It is absolutely bringing changes to the financial industry at whiplash-inducing speed.

That’s why I like the hockey analogy.  Unlike traditional commercial real estate, hockey is an event where things move fast and directions change on a dime.  From my perspective, this means there are one of two choices when it comes to credit union real estate decision-making:  Keep chasing the puck the way many do.  Or be a Gretzky.

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.

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