So, you want to transform your branches?

So, you want to transform your branches?

Do your research before hiring providers, whether it’s one design-build company or separate vendors.

April 20, 2022

When preparing to build or transform a branch, there are a few things to consider: why you need the branch(es) in the first place, the role they play in your network, your goals for these branches, how you will measure success, your budget, and your ideal timeline.

The most important factor of all, however, is determining the delivery method you will use for transformation. The Construction Industry Institute (CII) defines two widely known and accepted delivery methods:

1. Design-bid-build. The most traditional process in the U.S. construction industry, this is where the owner contracts separately with a designer and a contractor. The design firm is hired to deliver design documents, and the owner or agent then solicits bids from contractors to perform the work.

Designers and contractors bear no contractual obligation to one another, and the owner bears all risks associated with the completeness of the design documents.

2. Design-build. Under this method, an owner typically hires a single entity to perform both design and construction under a single contract. Portions, or all the design and construction, may be performed by the entity or subcontracted to other companies.

This method includes high levels of collaboration between the design and construction disciplines, input from multiple trades into the design, and a single entity bearing project risk.

When deciding which project delivery method is right for your branch project, consider:

  • Capacity and technical capability to closely manage the process.
  • Individual project drivers.
  • Sensitivity to the cost and schedule escalations.
  • Degree of comfort with bearing project risk.

Financial institutions that want to control the design and construction process and/or have the funds to hire sufficient personnel to closely manage the process of branch transformation may be more suited to the design-bid-build process.

That’s especially true if they are willing to bear the risk that the design will be complete and include sufficient details for constructability and enough room for contingencies to absorb costly change orders.

On the other hand, research indicates that projects completed with the design-build approach regularly outperform their design-bid-build counterparts in terms of cost and schedule performance, quality, reduced risk, change orders, and the ability to respond to real-time, evolving needs.

You may think we’re biased, being a design-build firm and all. So we pulled some of those hard facts on why you should consider going with the design-build approach.

A CII study of projects submitted by both owners and contractors states, “Owner-submitted design-build projects outperformed design-bid-build projects in cost, schedule, changes, rework and practice use.”

Practice use factors include constructability, team building, zero accident technique, design/information technology use, and change performance.

And in terms of schedule, another CII study indicates, “An experienced design-build team has the greatest opportunity of succeeding in achieving goals in schedule maintenance, construction speed, and intensity.”

Picking the right partner

You need to do your research before hiring a firm, whether it’s a design-build firm or separate vendors for the design-bid-build approach.

We recommend starting with an interview, where you can get all the answers you need to pick the right partner.

Some questions to ask: 

  • What specialists will I have access to as a result of choosing this design-build firm?
  • What is the firm’s history when it comes to keeping projects on schedule and on a budget?
  • Is there a reference list I can call?
  • May I see a portfolio of past projects that are like the one I’m interested in doing? 
  • Is the firm licensed, insured, and well-versed in obtaining correct permits? 
  • How does the firm handle communication? Will there be a point person assigned to my project? 

If they can’t confidently answer your questions, that’s a bad sign. If they don’t have experience with financial institutions, you should not work with them.

It’s as simple as that. Your needs are unique, and your average local contractor won’t know the critical nuances when designing and building a branch.

Many projects fail under a general, local contractor’s watch; we've even had to step in and fix a few projects before they reached catastrophic failure.

Often, contractors find themselves severely over budget and blowing past deadlines, ending up with a project that simply won’t work if it is completed at all.

If your potential partner is leaning on you to drive more than just the vision of the project, you should work with them. You are hiring an expert for a reason, so don’t let them make you do extra work they should be doing.

Don’t just pick the firm with the prettiest drawings. A design can look great in the drawings and their presentation may sound nice. But once the project starts, you will start to notice the timeline slip further away from your original promised date, the budget will quickly be depleted, and you may have to go back to the board to ask for more money and time.

Here’s what to have on your “wants” list:

  • A partner of high caliber who can confidently answer your questions and back up their answers with examples of their work. 
  • A firm that specializes in both designing and building for financial institutions and that knows all the important details to deliver and offer an excellent staff and client experience. 
  • A partner who can provide you with multiple references, as well as have completed projects in communities around your branch locations. 
  • A partner with strong communication and project management skills to make your involvement in the project as simple and painless as possible.

Finding the right partner in this current climate can be extremely difficult. Prices of many building materials have surged anywhere from 20% to 25%, and some to as much as 300% or more recently due to shortages, slowed production, supply-chain issues, and overall pandemic-related causes.

You need a partner you can trust to guide you through. Take your time and stay true to your mission. No one said transformation was easy, but it will be worth it.

B.A. EASTWOOD is director of architectural services at DBSI Inc., a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.