Building Projects: Wait and See or Time to Act?

engineers and architects working together on building design at table with blueprints
Tom Kennedy Photo
La Macchia Group

4 minutes

The time is now for credit unions that have delayed building or branch refresh projects, but it’s crucial to move forward strategically.

Over the past year, uncertainty tied to the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic has led many businesses to embrace a “wait and see” approach, pushing back decisions about major investments and setting arbitrary deadlines to revisit critical conversations in order to “see how things play out.” As many organizations begin to reopen these conversations, we’re seeing a sense of urgency to make up for lost time or to act before more things change. While that is understandable, building and renovation projects, core investments and digital infrastructure initiatives aren’t easily fast-tracked in normal times, and now is certainly no exception.  

While we can’t make up for lost time, it does make sense to retire the “wait and see” approach.  Throughout history, analysis shows financial institutions that sought guidance for investing in the midst of economic uncertainty and made smart, strategic investments in their physical infrastructure and brands experienced strong returns and came out of recessions in a better position than their counterparts, poised for quick, sustainable growth.

We’re seeing that ring true for financial institutions that have invested in building, branding and technology projects over the last 18 months. So, what about those credit unions that embraced the “wait and see” ideology and now feel ready to take the next steps in enhancing their branch networks?  

From high inflation and labor and supply shortages to a long line of other FIs that are similarly looking to invest, credit unions that are now ready to move forward with such projects are facing challenges. If you’re ready to build, renovate, rebrand, refresh or take on a technology overhaul, here are a few tips to help you quickly and cost-effectively move your project forward:

Timing Is Important … But It Isn’t Everything

For credit unions feeling the urgency of pursuing their previously delayed building or other network refresh projects—it’s important that expediency doesn’t trump strategy. It is natural to focus on the bricks and mortar and dollars and cents of a project, but FIs would be ill-advised to let these elements alone drive their path forward. The key to ensuring a project is worthy of investment is to do a thorough analysis to identify the true needs and opportunities available and determine the best strategic path forward to capitalize on them.

The goal of any building project should be to bring your credit union’s brand, mission and vision to life in a relevant way for the marketplace and for your members. If you don’t have a clear path forward for your institution's brand, mission and vision, a building project will not be worth your investment.

It is always worth it to take the necessary time to be strategic. A building, branding or technology project is no exception.

Find a Partner Who Knows More

Once the analysis is done, jump into action and pursue a partner who can provide real-time intelligence Organizations should carefully consider their partner’s abilities, looking specifically at the agility of their design, architecture, construction, and technology capabilities. In today’s economic climate, it is more apparent than ever that bringing all these functions under the same roof with a design-build partner is likely the best return on investment.

It comes down to collaboration—not only between the owner and the design builder, but also within the design-build process. With a design-builder, the process happens under one roof and often around one table, allowing for challenges to be identified and mitigated up front and with a greater level of transparency.

What does that look like in practice? For the La Macchia Group team, because all functions of a project are on parallel tracks, the team has a robust understanding of a project and its needs early in the design process. That means that before a design is even final, key building materials like steel, pre-cast concrete and glass can be procured at an early stage in the process, saving the client money and providing a more comprehensive and accurate idea of total project cost and timeline.
This inherent collaboration within a design-builder means your partner can also design a project around current-state availability of materials and supplies. A design-builder can look at the availability and pricing of copper, lumber, paint and more and let that information determine next steps and influence design work.

Elevate the Member Experience

Branches matter. They are necessary and valued by members, but a credit union’s footprint can and should evolve to be more than bricks and mortar—to create an experience for members.

While digital screens and technology are increasingly being placed at the center of creating engaging experiences, simply having the tech is not enough. It’s the combination of the technology, architecture, branded design and communications fueled by a deep understanding of retail design trends and consumer financial behaviors that makes the difference.

Financial institutions that leverage their market and consumer insights to develop rich content that can be showcased through the latest technology—within and beyond the branch—set themselves apart by creating the mission-driven, brand-centered environments and experiences that today’s consumers are seeking.

If you’re coming out of a “wait and see” period at your credit union, it is true that the time is now to pursue investment—but don’t let expediency trump strategy. Find the right partner and pursue a project that creates a member experience that builds long-lasting relationships and brand loyalty that fuels growth for years to come.

Tom Kennedy is president of La Macchia Group, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through its proven methodology of Plan—Brand—Design—Build—Evolve, La Macchia Group designs and builds market-driven, brand-centered financial institutions, tailored to meet each client’s unique needs. Tom’s 30-plus years in the design-build industry and his problem-solving, solutions-driven approach ensure the highest degree of quality for La Macchia Group’s clients.

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