The recipient of the branch experience makeover, United Bank, is a Mid-Atlantic based successful regional bank that grew a burgeoning network over the last decade, largely through acquiring a series of smaller banks. As a result, the branch network is comprised of diverse branches in need of a unifying hand to create a more cohesive customer journey. We sat down with two of the creative minds behind the branch experience to learn more about how they created a new branch roadmap for the bank moving forward.
United Bank with a network of 142 branches has become a recognized financial leader with a strong regional presence. In ten years, the bank acquired more than 30 institutions including three major acquisitions that resulted in a doubling of bank size from $9 billion to $18 billion in assets. With only two original locations, the bank had no set standard for branch experience. Working collaboratively with United Bank, Adrenaline’s creative team – headed by Chris Howe, senior vice president of retail experience design and Heidi Cron, director of architecture and interior design – developed United Bank’s North Star, an aspirational vision of a future state to guide improvements across their branch network.
Chris Howe describes the bank as a “perfect sized institution” for a makeover – not too large or small. While United Bank has a “big heart and a passionate team,” their branch infrastructure was fragmented because of all of the merger and acquisition activity over the past decade. The Adrenaline team was tasked with helping United Bank unify their network to ensure it was a good representation of the United Bank brand moving forward. To effectively inform the branch optimization process, the Adrenaline team did field assessments and after visiting several branches evaluated the current state of the United Bank network.
Heidi Cron says, “We asked United to take us to the banks in their estimation that needed the most help. These banks had been part of an acquisition and had basically only changed out the signs and nothing else following the purchase. We learned about the neighborhoods these branches were in and had discussions with key staff about their challenges and goals.” Through these on-site assessments and team interactions, the Adrenaline team learned about the unique culture and how with each purchase, United Bank absorbed some of the best elements from acquired banks into their own culture, making the overall team and environment stronger and more inclusive.
The Adrenaline team discovered that United Bank didn’t have a strong brand story around their people and their communities. Although United Bank had a strong culture, that wasn’t something being highlighted across their brand. After going through a light brand discovery, an archetyping exercise, Adrenaline drafted an updated mission statement. Looking at the physical environment, the team did a color study of their competitors to develop an understanding of where United Bank could own their color space. Cron says, “We did a number of mood boards and went through our process in order to discover how we would start moving them towards their North Star.”
The team used a multi-disciplinary approach. Cron says, “In terms of customer journey, we were able to think outside the box and understand how their network might look five years from now, envisioning not just the physical, but also a digital infrastructure that then can lead to that North Star experience.” Understanding that the North Star was an aspirational future state, the team provided a tiered approach where United could make progress in steps moving toward the ideal embodiment of their branch experience. The three tiers were: refresh, transition, and transformation.
In terms of how the team showed options in the physical environment, Howe says, “We knew there were some complexities we wanted to share in terms of the calibration of the digital and physical world, and then tiering of the program up and down.” To achieve this, the team used a prototype branch to easily articulate what’s on the outside – things that can be done to the exterior of a facility within specific tiers – and interior specifications including digital enhancements available at the refresh, transition, and transformation levels. The team developed illuminating samples revealed via virtual reality to demonstrate the deployments.
Through before and after examples plotted along the transformation tiers, the team revealed just how much can be achieved at particular budgetary levels moving toward the North Star. On the exterior, each phase aligns the visual color story with the United Bank Brand but increasingly updates and modernizes each tier including lighting, siding, windows, and entries.
On the interior, each tier incorporates signature brand features and robust retail communications. The refresh tier includes a better utilization of existing space and refreshed color palette. Traveling up the tiers, the transitional space benefits from updated finishes and furniture and incorporates some operational efficiencies, like new consult areas and teller pods. In the transformational tier, the space gets a 360-degree overhaul with not only a new visual appeal, but new form and function as well, including a new community space and digital and interactive integration.
The Creative Takeaway
The United Bank team knows that the process of updating its branch network will take time and tenacity, but they now have a roadmap for the future in their North Star. As the team discusses opportunities for enhancement, this regional bank has the building blocks of success – an enviable regional footprint and a future facing vision for brand and branch optimization. Armed with their North Star, Lauren Hendricks, managing director marketing and communications for United Bank says, “I was really happy that our employees came through on the promise. What inspires me is not only the branding but giving our employees a space that they feel proud of and confident in.”