Branching is Not Dead!

July 24
Branching is Not Dead!

Branching is not dead. In fact, it is thriving in new forms—in sizes, staff composition, technology integration, and methods of revenue generation. We were asked to compete with other national design firms to create a new, highly efficient and productive design, while delivering a unique brand experience.

Municipal Credit Union in New York City serves over 300,000 members from a network of branches. They needed a new branded brand concept to help differentiate them in their market, and substantially enhance the member and staff experience. Following is the NELSON brand experience brand translation and branch business model transformation for a new branch on Staten Island. This work was completed with Weber Marketing Group, a longtime strategic partner.

About MCU

What first intrigued us about Municipal Credit Union’s unique challenge was the amazing bond MCU shares with their hard working members. Their members are incredibly diverse—ethnically, in their ages, and in their careers, and geographically spread across all five boroughs. But they are connected in their service to the 8 million people of New York City. What many of them share in common is what many American families struggle with every day—they need help to reach their financial goals and their dreams.

Make them Unique

Brand video developed by Weber Marketing Group

So we didn’t want to just design one more, nice looking branch filled with cool technology, we wanted to design a new experience authentic to Municipal workers rich heritage; one that could delivery real guidance and help. First we had to identify a link to a unique space where Municipal workers would be proud to call their own. To do that, we wanted to understand what MCU members share with other New Yorkers, and what makes them unique.

Big Idea

We went looking for the big idea that would speak to Municipal workers. Finding that big idea took us weeks, but it was so clear when it finally landed.

The Bridge

Municipal Credit Union needed a bridge and so did their members. They needed this to reach their desired future and financial wellbeing. Why bridges? Bridges, like Municipal workers, are what connect the people of New York City together. They take you where you want to go, and bridges are open to everyone. With this bridge, we wanted to celebrate building a new bridge to the future for every member.

Design Rationale

Bridges are about accessibility, and it became our central, driving theme. So we went to work designing the new bridge experience that defined the wide range of challenges that MCU asked us to tackle. So with the MCU team goals of a distinctive new prototype of the future, we focused on bridging accessibility in three ways.

First, self-service and interactivity—how to move beyond traditional tellers. Second, advice and guidance—helping members get where they want to go. And third, business incubation—facilitating and supporting new businesses and their entrepreneurial spirit.


From here, our design strategy begin to build relationships to deliver a fresh new user experience, new ways for staff to engage, and develop a new operating model.

Functional Challenges

We identified three functional challenges to address space priorities. First was to design a prototype with adaptability to a fast-changing world of new technologies and interaction without major cost. Second was to ensure the space was easy to navigate and promoted interactions that fostered financial education. Third was to tie space not just to technology, but to the choices access, freedom, and time savings that we defined as mobility.


We created a rich set of connected set of user experiences that tied relationship development, trusted advisors, and tools into clear space priorities.


We sketched out ways that we could define how staff would need to change behaviors. Going from behind desks to engaging visitors on the floor.


And finally, we were ready to render it in three dimensions to help staff visualize, train, and adapt to this new environment and unique experience.

Welcome to the Bridge

Welcome to the bridge. From the moment you approach the front, the distinctive bridge design welcomes you in with modern and timeless city materials of steel, glass, and concrete that define New York City. It celebrates MCU’s strength and pride of serving municipal workers. The open glass front welcomes people inside, and glows with nighttime views of vibrant, digital video—it appeals to all generations.

Step Inside

Once you step inside, the concierge welcomes you to the bridge and sets an experience of warm, engaging hospitality. The steel bridge beams span the length of the interior, creating an open and modern space that is not banking as usual. Your eyes are drawn to a flagship video wall, setting the tone for linking MCU members to a new way of banking. We wanted to create an interior vibe of contrast much like New York City itself—warm woods contrast modern glass; structural steel mixes with concrete walls. We balance that with touches of blue brand colors and pops of warm lighting and modern orange color. Real family conversations happen around the table, so we’ve designed a kitchen table—a space that generate conversations.


Tone setting brand messages pull your eyes inside. Staff have small stations to welcome members to explore and interact in ways to save and learn. Video conferencing assists staff in providing key information and sharing tools. Chat is a banquet style café where comfortable discussions about managing money can begin.


MCU members love using their branches, and teller lines often backup. They need help learning options, before they will embrace new technologies. So we designed a mobility center—you can see it here on your left. We not only teach how to use personal video tellers for transactions, but demo and sign members up on the spot for mobile deposits, online bill paying, and Person-to-Person transfers. We accommodate queuing for 25 to 30 people, but we believe success ahead won’t be long line, but smarter ways of banking mobility.


For Municipal workers challenge to get their kids to college and women starting new businesses, we needed a strong financial wellbeing area to connect MCU’s trusted advisers to education that unlocks financial health. The glass offices keep an open line of sight. Part of accessibility is making them feel more approachable, so we make advisory services less intimidating. Wayfinding signage highlights our key financial wellbeing themes of incubate, invest, and finance. New businesses are invited to use the new incubate space whenever it’s free. The flexible lobby space can quickly shift to accommodate educational and community events for up to 40 people.   


Seating is designed for relaxed comfort and flexible ways of staging relationship development. Kids are welcome within an entertaining iPad station. Videos showcase member stories and the impacts MCU makes in the quality of life in their boroughs and neighborhoods.


Effective branch space today must not only deliver distinctive brand services, they must perform to justify high costs. MCU asked for a 2,500 to 3,000 square foot prototype branch. We delivered everything asked for in 2,300 square feet. This provides potential lease savings of $100,000 to $250,000.

A century ago, ten municipal workers joined together to help each other finance and save for the life they wanted to live. They built bridges and helped create a city that defines America. One hundred years later, we celebrate chapter of building a new bridge to guide 365,000 hard-working MCU members and their families to financial wellbeing. We want to thank MCU management and staff for the time they shared in the development of this new branch concept, and thank you for watching this video. 


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