New bank aims for futuristic feel, Northwoods charm

Banking as an industry often has a reputation of being stuffy and buttoned up. It’s not without merit — being responsible for people’s money and financial wellbeing is serious business.

Recently though, with River Valley Bank’s entrance into the Madison market, that stereotype is being challenged.

River Valley Bank, based in Wausau and with a presence through central and northern Wisconsin as well as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, opened a new branch in Middleton on June 23, which features some very un-banklike amenities.

“We built a customer-centric facility: relaxed and less intimidating than old traditional banks with teller lines,” says Jan Hogan, market president of River Valley Bank, who approached Madison design-build firm Iconica with a request to help him create an incredible customer experience — “The Bank of the Future.”

The future is now

Surprisingly, there are no teller lines at RVB’s Middleton location.

“It’s the experience,” Hogan explains. “The customer can come in and sit in our fully stocked cafe, in a relaxed environment. We open accounts with iPads and customers can use them as they need. We ask the customer where they would like to sit, and if we can get them a beverage; we want them to feel comfortable. The space has an open, relaxing look, and non-traditional, beautiful furniture.”

Typically, walking into a bank can feel a bit tense, regulated, or hurried, but Hogan wants people to stick around.

“We designed it for community and group gatherings. Community club space is in the entrance area of the bank. Community clubs are always welcome. We use it for teaching, such as on the topic of residential mortgage lending. Lenders are coming in to educate the public on new regulatory changes. That is the big thing going on right now. We also encourage our customers to bring in their own groups. We are about incredible customer experience.”

The incredible customer experience starts with the eyes. Walking into bank, visitors are surrounded by glass and natural light. Impressive, heavy timber trusses overhead create a Northwoods feel, and stone and glass extend seamlessly from the exterior all the way through the interior of the bank. The organic elements combine with aluminum to make customers feel as though they stepped into a modern, high-tech version of a rustic retreat.

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Honoring the past

To really connect RVB’s roots to its new home, the design experts at Iconica came up with the clever idea to take a physical part of the Northwoods and use it as a centerpiece in the lobby. They found a tall, old, rustic barn in the area, photographed it, took the large barn door off of it, and had the door installed as the centerpiece wall in the lobby. The wood faces the entranceway, where the poster-sized photograph of its barn hangs behind glass.

Josh Stanz, part of the Architectural Team at Iconica and leader designer on the River Valley Bank Project, says the bank was keen on bringing aspects of its roots down to the Middleton and Madison area.

“It all goes back to the early visionary meetings we had with them,” Stanz notes. “We brought images, concepts, layouts, and plans to the bale and worked directly with River Valley Bank to hone the the feel, look, and space of that bank. Through those meetings we were really able to pinpoint exactly what they wanted.”

This fun, yet sentimental, tie-in to the nature of Wisconsin, and the history of RVB make the atmosphere unique and comfortable. From the skylights that bring in the natural light, to the stone-framed fireplace in a large conference room, the new space practically begs customers to take their time at the bank. What was once an errand has now become more of a destination.

“My favorite part of this project was the fun surprises,” says Stanz. “Seeing it in 2-D and 3-D on the computer is so different from having it all come to life. For the first time seeing the tile, the trusses, and the fireplace — it came out beautifully.”

Integrating and donating

As the third largest community bank in Wisconsin, River Valley Bank has the power and the capital to bring assistance to its new community in the form of educational programs, which the bank will offer to the public when regulatory changes happen, and in the form of charitable giving.

RVB’s original ownership group was comprised of farmers in central Wisconsin, who grew to the second largest bean-farming operation in the country. When the farmers sold the bean operation, they purchased the bank.

The bank, growing from its small business roots, specializes in small business lending, and the residential mortgage area.

“This bank is totally community-oriented,” Hogan says.

To prove the point, at its grand opening event June 23, River Valley Bank gave away $8,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations. Visitors were able to come in and vote for their favorite organization, and winners received cash donations from the bank.

“People have shown such excitement and are happy for us to be here,” Hogan says.

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