“Understand what your customers’ needs are.”

When Tony Ferro joined Associated Bank as its vice president of construction, the company was already in the midst of a major remodeling effort meant to satisfy both employees and customers alike. Here, he discusses the initiative’s progress and how he got himself up to speed.

Associated Bank’s new branch prototype unifies the look of the brand. It includes lots of glass to emphasize openness. (Photo: J. H. Findorff & Sons, Inc.)

90010_InteriorYou joined Associated Bank while it was in the middle of a big remodeling effort. How tough was it to get caught up?
The learning curve was steep. My background was mostly in retail, not the financial world. Not only was I trying to learn a process that was implemented two years before I joined the team, but I was also learning what the customer needed and an industry at the same time. Thankfully, I had a lot of great help here at the company that guided me through the process.

How did your prior experience in construction help you get up to speed?
My previous experience helped me to focus on some of the main drivers on projects and large initiatives such as contracts [and] learn the players and the overall goals and objectives of a program. We had a general contractor that partnered with us and acted as a [construction manager] on the remodel initiative. They were a great help in running the projects, which allowed me to observe how we were performing the branch remodels and learn the process without having to drive it.

What contributions were you able to make to the remodel project despite being new to the team?
My contributions were about hearing what our customers said throughout the process and implementing revisions where needed. The team that put this initiative together did a great job of gathering a myriad of employees throughout the company to understand and get feedback from all of our focus groups. It was important to be certain, before we started the initiative, that it was directionally correct.

Talk a little bit about the new prototype. What was the thinking behind it?
Some of the features for our new branch were developed out of our footprint program. The bank as a whole was a conglomerate of different bank organizations that had merged over the years; it had no unified look or feel from one branch to another. The remodel program got that up to speed, establishing a more unified look. Our new branch prototype then carried that unification forward and then embellished it with different features. That was true both inside the bank and on the exterior.

Banks have transitioned from the traditional marble façade and marble floors into what the customers were looking for: a good banking experience with the technology and a more inviting atmosphere. We did that by shortening up our lobbies, bringing our teller lines forward, and creating offices with glass fronts so [that] we have that visibility and openness to our customers. We also introduced a technology kiosk so [that] we can educate our customers on how to use mobile banking and make their banking options more convenient.

Have you had any hand in the ongoing development of this prototype?
I have been working with our partners to value engineer our current prototype. We are always looking for ways to save on cost and increase our speed to market. Currently, we have been able to reduce our construction schedule by 15 percent and costs by 8 percent.

You believe that construction isn’t just about budgets, deadlines, and the like—that it’s also about building and maintaining relationships. Why?
I feel this way because you’re constructing a building that your colleagues will spend a great deal of their time within. You cannot just build a building and have it as a sterile environment, void of input.

I think that is where the bank has stepped forward with their colleague-engagement teams. It allows colleagues to better serve their customers and to make branches places where they enjoy coming to work. When they enjoy coming to work, they service the next customer better, and it’s a trickle-down environment. You can’t build something for somebody unless you understand their space needs.

With the construction and the other things that we do, it’s important not to operate in a vacuum. If you understand what your customers’ needs are, you’re in a better position to deliver on them instead of creating a work-around for them.
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Hard-wall spaces at Associated Bank’s headquarters in Green Bay, WI, were placed near the core of the building. (Photo: Mark F. Heffron)
Hard-wall spaces at Associated Bank’s headquarters in Green Bay, WI, were placed near the core of the building. (Photo: Mark F. Heffron)

Associated Bank’s Headquarters

Associated Bank has been busy remodeling its branch offices, but it also recently renovated an existing office building as its new headquarters in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin. The company had previously lacked a command center, and its employees had often had to travel building to building for meetings. The new Green Bay headquarters brings everyone under one roof, allowing for better collaboration, less commuting, and more efficiency.

Tony Ferro served as the program manager on the headquarters project, helping to oversee its construction while interfacing with Associated Bank’s other lines of business such as physical security, IT, and colleague engagement. “[The program manager role] was the center point of communication for things going on with the building: keeping the contractor going, being that key point of communications between our consultant, the contractor, and all of our owner groups, and keeping the project running forward,” Ferro says.

The arrangement leaves more of the headquarters’ space open to daylighting, creating a warmer atmosphere overall.
The arrangement leaves more of the headquarters’ space open to daylighting, creating a warmer atmosphere overall. (Photo: Mark F. Heffron)

Associated Bank placed the headquarters’ hard-wall offices in the core of the building and put open workstations nearer to exterior windows, bringing natural light deeper into the building and decreasing the structure’s overall square footage per person. There are also collaboration and decompression areas on each floor, and an online conference-room reservation system helps employees find out which rooms are available. “It’s an easy way for our colleagues to utilize the 38 conference rooms in the building,” Ferro says.

 

(Photos: Mark F. Heffron)