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Alaska is known around the world for its spectacular wilderness scenery. In credit union circles, Alaska in known to consistently rank at the top in terms of population to credit union membership. Not only are there many large and thriving credit unions in Alaska, but the market is saturated with community banks and large money center banks as well. One credit union, however, has made it their mission to stand out: Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union. In fact, their tagline is “Above and Beyond.” When it came time to implement this philosophy in their new main office and downtown Anchorage branch, they turned to the acknowledged leader in building innovative branded experiences: NewGround.
The progressive leadership at Denali Alaskan FCU, including Bob Teachworth, CEO, and Brit Bolsinger, Vice President of Operations, approached the new main office project with the objective that they wanted to create a truly unique member experience through the integration of technology and a dynamic retail environment. The Credit Union located an old four story bank building in Midtown Anchorage that was ideally located; however it would be a challenge, especially considering the fact that they really wanted to avoid looking like all of the other institutions in town. “We were looking for a “WOW effect”, explains Brit, “and we wanted to avoid the ‘fortress like’ look of traditional teller lines.” He continues, “We knew about traditional branch designs and were quite familiar with the ‘1970s’ look of many banks and credit unions in town, so we turned to NewGround to bring some fresh creative ideas to the table for us.”
The first step was for NewGround to perform a survey of existing branches and methodically assess the space and personnel required to meet Denali’s ten-year business goals. With more than 12,000 projects completed throughout the United States and Canada, NewGround's programming and space review team has plenty of experience. One point that both the NewGround design team and Denali’s senior management agreed upon – there would be no teller line. Denali Alaskan wanted to implement the new “Dialog Tower” teller pods that featured De La Rue cash handling equipment. This new retail delivery methodology has recently been sweeping across the country as the most dynamic trend to hit the financial services industry. NewGround’s designers also proposed using a “Virtual Queue”, wherein members would have a choice to log into the queue through a PC or they could be met live by a Concierge who would assist them in logging in. Once recognized by the automated system, the member is free to explore the high-tech retail lobby before meeting with a Sales Associate. While somewhat shocking at first to many members, “there has been a very positive response from most members”, says Brit.
Perhaps that is because most people simply don’t like standing in line, but it also doesn’t hurt that there is an Internet Café and a coffee bar that members can indulge in a fresh cup of coffee of their own private label high quality coffee that they re-market from one of their Select Employee Groups who is a coffee roasting company. On busy paydays and every Saturday, they thoughtfully provide free cookies to their members and visitors. They also have carved out a small “kid’s area” to help keep them entertained.
NewGround has a state-of-the-art Multimedia division that Denali Alaskan took full advantage of in their first floor retail space. Five large plasma screens are spread around the retail area featuring a blend of financial news and the credit union’s product and service offerings. Brit enthuses that “the plasmas are much more eye appealing than posters and rate boards, and they really help educate our members about the broad range of services that we offer.” Broad indeed: the full gamut of deposit and loan products, business and personal insurance, financial planning, investment opportunities and, coming this summer, small business services. “We like the flexibility of the digital merchandising because we can easily change the content and keep it fresh,” explains Brit. In practice, NewGround pushes real-time custom promotions, news, stock information, and other high-interest data directly to the five multimedia displays in the retail center.
Another one of NewGround’s creative concepts that Denali Alaskan liked and implemented was the dialog tower, known as the “Pod”. The Pod is the area where the Sales Associate serves the member and helps them with their financial issues – they are trained to answer a full array of questions about the Credit Union’s offerings. It features dual flat screen monitors – one for the Sales Associate and one for the member. It also utilizes a high-tech cash dispenser. This Pod serves the cash functions, like accurate cash dispensing and balancing, freeing the Sales Associate to focus more attention on building a stronger relationship with the member. There is also an added benefit of the Pod of increased security since there are no cash drawers to entice robbers. Brit explains that, “The cash dispensers, along with the overall design of our branch, make for a really secure facility.”
With a technologically savvy senior management team and a large 32,000 square foot facility outfitted with eight conference rooms, Denali Alaskan was able to deploy a cutting edge wireless local area network (WLAN) that would meet their mobility needs. Now their senior executives are free to move about the large building with their laptops, untethered from traditional Ethernet cables. According to Brit, “We can take notes and reference information on our laptops and on the network when we are in meetings – it is fantastic.” Naturally, wireless communications brings up security concerns for many financial institutions, but Denali Alaskan’s highly experienced IT staff is very security conscious and has rolled out a secure WLAN. Case in point, during a recent audit by a nationally known security firm, there were no weaknesses detected in the network.
The unique new main office facility has garnered quite a bit of positive press for the Credit Union, both locally and nationally. Other Credit Unions have even made the long trip North to visit and get the full effect of the “retail experience” of the facility, and all have come away impressed. “Working with NewGround on this project was fantastic,” says Brit, “They are a great group to work with.” As Denali Alaskan looks to expand their nine branch network to better serve their members, there can be no doubt that NewGround will be there to assist them, whether it is a new branch or a remodel of an existing branch. “We have an extremely high rating of NewGround and look forward to a long partnership with them in the future,” concludes Brit.