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  • Writer's pictureRoy Urrico

Banking Architectural Specialist DEI Creates Groundbreaking Designs for CU1 Branches

By Roy Urrico

Credit Union 1 (CU1) selected Cincinnati, Ohio-based architectural firm DEI, which specializes in financial institutions, to design and build several new locations in Illinois and Indiana. The plans for the CU1 branches include creation of cutting-edge retail settings, strong brand identification throughout, and reflections of each individual community represented.

Bob Boehmer, DEI

“Credit Union 1 has not only updated and created the branding identity throughout their network, but also understands the importance of creating an exceptional environment for their existing and future employees,” said DEI Regional Vice President Bob Boehmer.

Boehmer added, “In today’s world, the importance of the workforce and maintaining their job satisfaction is extremely important. He pointed out CU1 received a Top Workplace recognition by the Chicago Tribune in 2021.

The $1.23 billion Rantoul, Ill.-based CU1 spans the Chicago metropolitan area, the northern and central regions of Illinois, the Indianapolis metropolitan area, and the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Part of CU1’s goal to provide consistent member service, the credit union continues to place branches in convenient locations to best serve their market.

“As CU1 continues to expand to meet member expectations and provide convenience, we continue to partner with DEI,” said Todd Gunderson, CU1’s CEO and president. “We’ve worked with them for many years, and they continue to assist us in achieving our goals.”

CU1 Branches Look the Same, But Different

It is important to acknowledge that many credit unions, such as CU1, still consider physical locations important to their business model. While the number of bank branches has steadily declined since the 2007-2009 financial crisis from almost 100,000 to about 80,000 in 2020; credit union branch closings fell at a much slower pace than banks. More recently, credit union branches even showed a slight resurgence, growing from 21,440 in 2009 to 21,566 in 2020.

Credit Union 1 is currently working with DEI on three new locations: Chicago and Springfield, Ill.; and South Bend, Ind. Each location is a tenant build-out at approximately 2,000 square feet.

CU1 intends to have every branch with the same look and feel to provide a consistent brand language — from visual appearance to consistent member service and products. For example, CU1 utilizes sit-to-stand desks in all spaces, from the smallest of cubicles to the CEO’s office, and ergonomically designed chairs that adjust to custom-fit the end user.

Other items used in various locations include an employee lounge and small kitchenettes for impromptu meetings and coffee breaks. Overall, the brand coloration and inspirational messaging helps to reinforce the forward-thinking approach of the CEO and the entire organization.

However, each location takes on a customized look to reflect the community where it is located. For the Springfield and Chicago locations, for instance, the graphic murals feature each of those cities behind the dialogue pods. The South Bend, Ind., location takes the customization a step further and features a mural of the University of Notre Dame campus and other graphics highlighting the Fighting Irish collegiate football team. The South Bend site also includes a student café in the waiting area.

Banking Workplace Design Changes

Boehmer has noticed some modifications in financial institutions’ branch layouts recently. “In the last several years, the main changes I’ve seen are the increased importance of incorporating and balancing both high-touch and high-tech opportunities and creating state-of-the-art retail environments with strong brand recognition.”

Another essential requirement of today’s banking design is an open floor plan and as much natural light reaching the interior of the facility as possible, explained Boehmer. “The floor plan should provide an ease and flow for customers/members and staff to interact with each other. And, finally, understanding how personnel and departments all work together is important to the overall layout of the facility and departmental adjacencies.”

The amount of floor space devoted to brick and mortar has also changed. Boehmer estimated approximately a 25% decrease in the average floor plan over the years due to technological advancements and number of customers/members physically visiting the facilities. “This is also due to better design utilization without wasted space,” he noted.

Employees and their ability to provide multiple services to assist the customer/member with most of their needs also influence the design. The layout allows associates to flow freely within the space to attend to the accountholder needs. Examples include hoteling offices — workspaces and conference rooms available for employees to reserve or claim in advance — instead of the traditional permanent seating; dialogue banking pods; tablet stations; and online loan application desks.

DEI Goal: Designing State of the Art Facilities

DEI, has designed, built or remodeled over 1,800 financial facilities and states its purpose is to provide state-of-the-art retail facilities that help its clients improve their return on investment.

“DEI’s design department works closely with each client to develop a prototype facility. Designs are based on our client’s brand standards, such as color, logo and graphic language, the overall personality of the organization, target demographic, and client preferences and goals,” stated Boehmer. “Once the design is established, minor changes may occur to better speak the community in which it will be located.”

In addition to its Ohio headquarters DEI has offices in Texas, Indiana, New York, and Florida.


Banking Spaces

Source: DEI

Each photo above depicts the incorporation of technology (for instance, multi-panel video screens for marketing purposes, large screens in meeting areas to project bank product info or provide training, dialogue banking pods with cash recyclers, etc.) and how it enhances the overall in-person experience. They also show different styles for meeting spaces, for both employees and with members/customers. CU1 (left) encourages their staff to collaborate and provides open café-like areas for staff to meet casually and is in close proximity to their work space. Texas DPS Credit Union (center) and First Midwest Bank (right) have booth-like meeting spaces available for staff or customer meetings. Texas DPS and First Midwest also have large windows bringing in an abundance of natural light.

“Throughout all three projects attached, you can see how their colors, and even the shape, of their logo are incorporated throughout the interior – via paint colors, furniture fabrics and even pulled into graphics,” noted DEI Marketing Manager Kim Rittmeier. She pointed out the subtle reinforcement of the brand from marketing through the physical facility. “Credit Union 1 even takes it so far that they make sure the music you hear on hold is consistent with the music you hear in branch, and their visuals are consistent from imagery within the branch to what you see on their website.”


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