Jon Fahning – Bremer Bank
- Written by: Jason Pafundi
- Produced by: Andrew Wright
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When we last spoke with Jon Fahning and Minnesota-based Bremer Bank in July 2019, the 77-year-old financial institution was working to launch new branches in locations throughout the upper Midwest.
As with any construction project, having the right architectural plans was critical. But there was another document that proved equally indispensable: Bremer’s 100-plus-pages design playbook that serves to both upgrade and streamline the customer experience.
Specifically, Bremer relies on four unique “typologies” that fit different geographic locations (the bank operates in Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin).
The “Hub” is a typical full-service facility, currently being deployed in a few locations—such as Fargo and Minot, North Dakota—providing both forward-facing services to Bremer customers and regionally based, back-of-house services, like credit analysis.
There’s also the “Club” which, in addition to offering back-of-house services and business banking, provides office space and support for local businesses as well as community spaces; the “Satellite” which provides full-service business services; and the “Pit Stop,” a smaller, transactional-based location that provides Bremer’s entire list of services with support from its business partners, providing opportunities for Bremer to continue to grow its presence in the marketplace.
All four designs are being tweaked and polished using internal and external feedback, in addition to processes and methods changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re repositioning in a number of ways,” Fahning says. “We’re doing it through consolidation, sale for redevelopment and other strategies in a series of locations to make way for new, ground-up construction that’s concurrent with where the brand is today.”
A growing brand footprint
One project that got off the ground in September—in Minot, North Dakota—will consolidate two local branches and a total of 45,000 square feet into one ground-up build incorporating 7,500 square feet of new space, located in the southwestern area of the city.
According to Fahning, the space demonstrates Bremer’s new, modern brand alongside a customer-focused design.
“There is just a lot of excess space that we haven’t been using as much over the years,” Fahning tells Blueprint in August.
Inside the buildings—one 40,000 square feet; the other 5,000—there were large offices and big lobbies that no longer fit Bremer’s style. Another change is the elimination of the typical eight-person teller line. Now, Bremer is employing partners’ tables and using the space more efficiently—while keeping the same number of employees.
Another project in Wisconsin came about after the city of Amery approached Bremer about finding a new home for the library. The old Bremer location had 25,000 square feet on two floors—only one of which was being used by Bremer—but the city has purchased the entire building.
“It’s all about taking advantage of repositioning opportunities within select markets while demonstrating our long-term commitment to our clients and communities where we exist,” Fahning says.
He says the company is always searching for opportunities in strategic locations. Bremer is still looking at expansion in a way that makes sense from both a business and customer perspective.
Needless to say, expanding during a pandemic-driven economic downturn can be a daunting task.
Banking during a pandemic
Since the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on the country’s economy in March, operating any customer-facing business has been rife with challenges.
But Fahning and Bremer adapted quickly, making changes to ensure people still had access to the bank and their bankers.
Because of the privacy required in banks (picture someone coming to a table to speak with a teller about an account), social distancing is a given. But how customers respond to the changes—including the introduction of partners’ tables—is something that won’t be known for quite some time.
“Bremer’s team has gone to incredible lengths to serve our customers; however, they are most comfortable interacting with us, and that’s an effort we are committed to,” Fahning says.
The future of banks
One thing Fahning knows doesn’t work anymore is office spaces with fixed walls. Instead, Bremer is using flexible wall systems that can be configured for different scenarios, different events and different markets.
“If we start with the branch looking one way, and our feedback says it’s not working, it’s an easy fix,” he explains. “Gone are the days of having to do an entire renovation as the new locations experience changes in the marketplace.”
He says there’s another traditional part of banking that might be going the way of the vault with the swirling locks: safety deposit boxes. People aren’t using them nearly as much as they have in the past, and at some Bremer branches, they aren’t available at all.
“One thing we continue to see is the need for clients to interact face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow with our staff,” Fahning notes. “Banking is a relationship-driven business and we continually see the need for this as our business grows.”
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