Just Add Coffee: How Canopy Credit Union is Rethinking Branching

Co-location strategies — in which credit unions share space with another business often completely unrelated to financial services — have become more popular in recent years. As credit unions continue to rethink their brick-and-mortar networks, one Northwest institution shared how its partnership with a local coffee shop has helped perk up its branching model.

Perfect Timing

When Canopy Credit Union, based out of Spokane, Washington, wanted to expand, it had already decided to lease about half of the new branch to a co-location partner. Charlotte Nemec, Canopy’s President and CEO since 2018, knew she wanted to increase the efficiency of the branches as well as attract younger members.

The credit union acquired a building in an ideal location but scrapped its initial renovation plans in favor of a complete rebuild that leveraged the original foundation. During construction, the credit union signed a coffee partner to a lease, but the selected partner determined later it was not yet ready to expand.

Ladder Coffee Roasters, another established Spokane coffee shop, noticed Canopy’s social media posts about seeking a coffee partner. Ladder’s owner, Aaron Rivkin, reached out, and by the time the two connected, Ladder had opened a bustling retail location and was looking for a second.

“Aaron and Ladder were precisely what we were looking for,” Nemec said. “I loved their story. It fit who Canopy was all about and the timing was perfect.”

Canopy moved into the new building in September 2019, with Ladder following three months later. Along with the coffee shop inside, Canopy brought in ITMs to provide a high level of service within a small branch. High-top tables give members a place to sit or stand while they wait to meet with credit union staffers, two or three of which are on-site to help with account and lending needs.

With the pandemic beginning just six months after the new location opened, the decision to outfit the branch with ITMs proved particularly well-timed as many institutions moved to limit branch access.

“When COVID hit we were able to continue serving via our drive-thru at all branches and keep our tellers socially distanced,” Nemec said. “We did close the lobbies for a bit but were also able to re-open our lobbies sooner than we would have if we hadn’t had the ITM model. Ladder closed for a short time but reopened with limited hours at Canopy locations, equipped with drive-thru service.”

Ladder has a lease with the credit union for space at two different branches and pays rent to use the facility, generating non-interest income for Canopy. The credit union did not provide details of that arrangement.

Although Canopy was looking to differentiate itself within its market, it never lost sight of the industry’s people-helping-people ethos.

“We well understood our coffee competition was fierce,” Nemec said. “We wanted to focus on and reinforce why credit unions were created in the first place, which was to serve people of modest means.”

The formula has proven a success. Since the branch opened, membership, lending, and checking account penetration are all on the rise. More importantly, said Nemec, there is a heightened awareness in Spokane about what credit unions stand for and how they contribute to the fabric of a community.

Nemec said the partnership between Canopy and Ladder shows bigger isn’t always better, and even the smallest credit unions can still make a major impact in the communities they serve.

“We punch above our weight class,” she said, noting that Canopy is helping local nonprofits improve how they serve the community as well as offering its own employees paid time off to give back to the community.

“When people in the communities of Spokane and Pend Oreille need a loan,” the CEO said, “they are more likely now to remember the credit union with the coffee shop.”

Editor’s note: This article appeared originally on CreditUnions.com. Read the full piece here.

Posted in Around the NW.