CU’s Surreal Branch Inspires Members to Dream Big

Extreme Makeover, CU Style

April 1, 2013

The three-story street scene from York, England—featuring a pub laden with cricket memorabilia— catches your eye immediately.

On the right, Hannah’s purple bedroom sits on the second story, atop a breakfast nook. On the left , the Tower of Pisa shoots skyward at its peculiar, four-degree lean.
Tucked away behind a tropical beach scene is a section of fuselage leading to a “cabin” that features airplane seats, an Xbox equipped with headphones, and a flight simulator game.
This isn’t your typical credit union lobby.
“The typical reaction is, ‘Are we in Disney World?’,” says Sherry Johnson, who manages the new Inspiration Branch for $1.8 billion asset Summit Credit Union in Madison, Wis. “Or, ‘Is this still a credit union? Can I still do my transactions here?’ ”
The answer to the latter question assuredly is “yes”—but not in the traditional sense.
There’s no teller line at the branch, located in the Madison suburb of Fitchburg. Rather, a concierge handles basic transactions and, for more involved discussions, guides members to any of the exotic sets where they sit alongside a staffer equipped with a touch-screen laptop.
“Sitting in the kitchen nook and talking about your finances—that’s really how people talk about their finances day-to-day,” says Becky Gerothanas, senior vice president of operations. “So why not do it here?”
The Inspiration Branch is the brainchild of Summit President/ CEO Kim Sponem, whose aim is “to remind us all, not only of the dreams we had as kids, but those we have today as adults.”
The facades are removable, which makes it possible to rotate portions through other Summit branches and minimize renovation costs. Sponem dismisses the notion that brick-and-mortar investments are counterintuitive amid the explosion of mobile banking options.
“When I started my career with credit unions, I heard that we weren’t going to need branches anymore because of ATMs and debit cards ,” says Sponem, who assumed her current role in 2010. “And while mobile has taken off, I don’t see it completely replacing the branch.
“We have to invest in those other technologies,” she continues. “But when we look at our Net Promoter Score, which we measure several times during the year, there’s no replacing those one-on-one interactions.”