It Takes One To Know One, Say Architects of Job Conditions

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How do some design/build firms make certain that they keep the teller's-eye view of the branch in mind when they are creating a new facility?

Most cite years of experience building facilities for credit unions and other financials, but some remember what it was like acquiring that expertise.

"I had a hands-on experience because I was a teller," said DEI's Cynthia Grow. "I got involved in the design process early on because I could go in and say, 'Hey, this isn't going to work.' It was up to me to make sure things were ergonomically correct."

Today, DEI has a number of people on staff who are very familiar with the special needs of a CU, but Grow said it would be very easy for a new designer to make mistakes if someone with more experience isn't supervising.

"Most architects are men, and most tellers are women, and it's easy for a male architect to forget that the average female is not his height and doesn't have his reach, either," she suggested. "You might think it's no big deal to stand all day if you've never done it. But standing on concrete all day long is a killer, so you have to take that into account. And anytime you're trying something new- which we do all the time, because we don't take a cookie-cutter approach-you have to really think things through. You have to think about all the equipment a teller needs to do the job, the microphone, the headset, the camera, proper lighting. You have to keep in mind that not all tellers are 'Barbie-sized.'"

Ralph LaMacchia, of the LaMacchia Group, Milwaukee, Wis., agreed. "It's all about understanding what a teller does and that can differ from credit union to credit union," he said. "It's remembering that when someone walks in with a bag of coins and there's no coin counter, there had better be more than six inches of space to count the coins, and don't ever put a rounded corner on a teller counter, because the coins will roll along with the edge. It's stuff like that that you don't think of if you've never done this before. Some of the things that get thrown at tellers seem mundane to everyone else, but it's a lot more complicated than you might think, and when you do it all day long it can be a pretty big deal if your space is cramped and inadequate."

Growing With The Client

One thing that can really help an architect with this process is having the opportunity to grow right alongside the credit union.

"We've worked with Arkansas Federal Credit Union for years and done a lot of different types of work for them," said Chip Nix of KDA, Atlanta. "When the credit union was ready to get into the West Little Rock market, they initially went with a retail storefront branch that was basically a tenant improvement. When they grew the membership to support a new freestanding branch, we went back in and helped them with that, too.

"The storefront was more typical with a traditional teller counter with tellers sitting on teller stools so that sitting down they were at the member's eye height," he continued. "When we built the new branch, we installed a remote teller system, so now the tellers are all in a backoffice space, in sit-down desk environment. It's a much more comfortable environment, and a more secure environment, because the cash is removed from the lobby."

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