This Credit Union and Banker Amazed Us

Bank Culture And Branch Design

If you are looking for examples of how banks have to change, stop by Grow Financial Federal Credit Union the next time you are in Tampa and see Natalia Spratlen. Grow Financial FCU presents a nice, open small footprint branch space and creates an environment of high productivity. That is not unusual these days as lots of banks are now redesigning their branches. However, what is unusual is our interaction with Natalia.


We fog up a lot of windows looking into branch space across the country and mystery shop almost as many. Natalia is one of the few that have actually motioned us in. Once in, we explained that we were a competitor and actually looking to steal ideas from Grow Financial. We expected Natalia to be polite but send us on our way, however, we did not expect what happened next.


Instead of ushering us out, Natalia gave us a tour, invited us to take pictures, talked performance numbers, explained some promotions that were working and gave us her thoughts on the market. Particularly fascinating was Grow’s use of cash recycling machines in the branch to gain efficiencies. The transparency instantly garnered our trust and respect.


In contrast, a couple of doors down there is a branch of a major bank. The branch is a large footprint space complete with dark wood and teller stations. We found it interesting so decided to take pictures. Unfortunately, we were ushered out by their security guard in seconds with a tone that was not that welcoming. We understand the need for security in this day and age, but consider which financial institution has the advantage here - The bank that quickly ushered us out in austere fashion or the credit union that engaged us and was able to garner information in order to decide if we were a security risk?


Almost equally important as security is customer engagement. Both interactions summed up the changes that are taking place in banking. Openness, transparency, and engagement will get your bank farther than being a traditional stoic institution. On Grow Financial’s main wall, there are raised white on white letters that talk about what we could do with Grow’s help - We could grow into retirement early, we could send our kids to college, take a vacation, fund philanthropy, and so on. The bank down the street had pictures of their products, of their rates and about what they have done for the community. Where Grow’s environment was all about us, the bank down the street had an office that was all about them. Even if you set interior design aesthetics aside, consider how that environment translates to your employees, to your culture, and to your customers. In this age of commoditized business, banks need a personality and a culture that drives engagement.  


As if our time at Grow Financial wasn’t impressive enough, Natalia followed up with us via email to thank us for our time within 2 days of our introduction and then reached out to us via social media two weeks later. We are not sure if Natalia has a specific follow-up program or if she just processes amazing banking instincts, but the 2 days and 2 weeks follow-up periods (also 3 months and 5 months) are quantitatively proven ways to drive sales. In addition, connecting through multiple channels lets the customer know the bank can be reached in a number of ways and lets the customer choose the preferred communication method.


Grow Financial FCU needs to be commended on their banking skills and their culture, while Natalia should not only be running a sales platform for a bank branch, but our guess is that she would probably be effective running an entire network of branches. Banks that are looking to build a strong culture and more of a sales focus can take a page from Grow Financial’s playbook and learn from one of the best in the business.