BRILLION, Wis. (7/27/09)--When Best Advantage CU in Brillion, Wis., needed to relocate to a new building, it also wanted to completely change its operations. “We said, ‘How do we want our members to feel?’” Renee Maeder, Best Advantage CU business development leader, told News Now. “They need to feel great when they are here.” Best Advantage was recently mentioned in an article by the Appleton Post-Crescent about local businesses prompted to improve their efficiencies due to the economic recession. Best Advantage has increased its efficiency and provided its members with improved service as the result of 120 innovations that changed its overall operation. Best Advantage began the innovations process by partnering with Miron Construction for the construction of its new building. It then re-evaluated all of its process to look for improvements. One of the innovations involved changing staff titles. For instance, Best Advantage doesn’t have loan officers--it has financial architects, who meet with members in living rooms instead of offices. The architects have workspaces, but meet with members in much cozier, relaxing environments, Maeder said. Best Advantage also changed its traditional teller line to a “pod” environment, where members meet member specialists without the traditional teller barrier. “We’re building relationships,” Maeder said. “We really want our members to understand the difference between a credit union and a bank.” Best Advantage has realized cost savings through its innovations, such as eliminating envelopes. Instead, members donate $1 to buy reusable money holders. The money is used to plant trees. The change saves Best Advantage from buying 25,000 envelopes a year. The envelopes had an estimated life span of about three seconds before being thrown away, Maeder said. Best Advantage’s first phase of innovations took just over a year to complete. Last spring, the credit union began brainstorming about ways to improve its efficiency. The new building made the changes easier, Maeder said. The credit union is in the second phase of its innovation plan, and is now looking to change the lending department. Instead of giving each member the usual “cookie cutter” loan options, the credit union is looking to tailor options for each member. “We’re asking them, ‘What can you work into your budget?’” Maeder said. “We are not putting everyone in the same mold.” Credit unions looking to innovate should not be afraid to take chances. They also need to be aware that the planning process takes a “ton of time,” so they need to be really committed and get behind the changes, Maeder said. The changes also must involve the entire staff. Every employee was involved with Best Advantage’s changes. In one example, the member specialists created the pod environment. They took pictures of the workspace they had, and then listed what they liked, what they didn’t, and some of the things they needed. Best Advantage’s architect drew up the pods, and the credit union tried them out using model pods. With the models, the credit union was able to refine the pods and make changes. That way, when the pods were finally built, they were exactly what the staff wanted. “Had we not [used] models, it would have been a mistake,” Maeder said. The credit union also brought in Jill Greve as a team leader to help Best Advantage with its innovations process. Greve had worked at Schneider National, a shipping and trucking firm, for nine years. Best Advantage wanted Greve as a pair of fresh eyes because she hadn’t worked in the financial industry and could provide an unbiased perspective. Overall, credit unions and the financial industry in general need to change with the times and embrace technology, while still providing fantastic service to members. Some of the innovations Best Advantage completed could have been perceived as risky--but “we knew they would be a risk worth taking,” Maeder said. She also noted the importance of youth. Best Advantage receives input from its youth advisory board--which helped with the reusable money holders, for instance. “They say, ‘Look to the future--we are your future,’” Maeder said. Best Advantage has $54 million in assets.