Black Hills Gets Aggressive In Expanding Its Physical Presence

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Black Hills Federal Credit Union turned to a different source for a new headquarters building-a catalog.

Or a catalog company, to be more precise. Even in a state with only 700,000 residents, Black Hills FCU was still facing quite a bit of competition from local banks. Bank branches were popping up all around with brand-new buildings and state-of-the-art technology.

Black Hills Marketing Manager Carol Brown said the credit union didn't waste any time and certainly isn't backing down from the challenge.

"We can't afford a slip. We have to keep going great guns," Brown said. "We're always challenged by having enough infrastructure."

This year alone, Black Hills FCU:

* Bought a former Spiegel catalog company call center with about an acre of interior space to house ongoing Black Hills FCU expansion.

* Is building a new branch in Wall, S.D., a tiny town of 800 residents an hour from Rapid City

* Has moved into the design phase for a spring 2006 opening in Elk Vale, S.D.

* Has opened a branch in East North Rapid City, a section of town populated by low-income families

Brown said one unforeseen circumstance of so many new bank branches was to give the Black Hills FCU main office building in downtown Rapid City, an outdated, almost tired, look. The main office had been operated for more than 20 years with additions and a second floor added to accommodate backoffice operations and the CU administration office.

Looking 20 Years Ahead

Black Hills FCU was going to build yet another addition and an annex across the street from their main branch, but instead, staff sat down with a consultant to discuss where the credit union should be in the next 15 to 20 years. The consultant quickly pointed out that the Black Hills backoffice operation was occupying some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Brown said Black Hills staff began looking for other real estate that could house the backoffice, marketing, operations, human resources, marketing, IT, accounting, administration and offices for CU vice presidents.

"The Spiegel building was all of these," she said. "It's like a football field in there."

The 43,000-square-foot building has been vacant since 2003 after Spiegel went into bankruptcy. The building sits on eight acres and at one point had 500 employees answering customer calls. Brown said the building's interior is open with few walls and existing office space, training rooms and a room already constructed for an information technology section. The complex is so large, that Black Hills is already seeking tenants to rent space on site.

The main branch for Black Hills will remain downtown with mortgage lending, the investment division, plus consumer and business loans. Brown said every building Black Hills owns is considered a member service center where any member can perform routine financial transactions.

In addition to creating physical structures, Black Hills FCU hasn't wasted any time or effort adding new or more technology to its branches. Brown called the East North Rapid City branch a prototype with a fireplace in the lobby, a flat screen television showing news updates and CU commercials, plus areas for members to conduct online or personal banking at an "e-services" desk.

"Members love the self services," said Business Operations Manager Jana Plooster.

Plooster said the low-income area was underserved with no financial institutions offering any services at all. The branch's architecture and technology will serve as the model for all new Black Hills branches, she said.

Plooster said the branch has safe deposit boxes called "PassVault" that are accessed with a biometric scanner that reads members' palm print for verification. The members are then given entry into the vault.

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