Holding Court

“Even today, there’s still that curiosity factor.”  —Kenneth L. Bertrand, Allied First Bank

“Even today, there’s still that curiosity factor.” —Kenneth L. Bertrand, Allied First Bank

Allied First Bank gathers community around basketball

By Cheryl Winokur Munk

Community banks are always courting customers, and Allied First Bank in Oswego, Ill., has found a winning way. The $120 million-asset community bank built a basketball court into its headquarters for sports, fundraisers and community activities.

The court has been in use since 2007 and has been a boon for business—drawing in new customers and creating a significant buzz among locals, says Kenneth L. Bertrand, Allied First’s president and chief executive.

“Many, many times I’m out in the community talking about the bank or trying to attract new customers and inevitably what I hear is, ‘Oh, you’re the bank with the basketball court. I’ve got to come see that,’” he says. “Even today, there’s still that curiosity factor.”

The idea of providing space to host community-related activities surfaced as Allied First was designing its new headquarters. Bertrand threw in the basketball court twist because of the frustration he felt years ago when trying to find a practice spot with his son.

Now Bertrand, an avid basketball fan, feels great pride when he looks out from his second-floor office and sees fathers and sons dribbling down the half court, or when neighborhood kids face off in a pickup game.

In addition to B-ball, amateur musicians frequently practice there and two middle-school choirs use it weekly because of the acoustics. The 50-foot by 30-foot arena seats 80 people, so nonprofits also host meetings there. There is no cost to use the facility.

During the day, users enter the court through the main lobby, which increases foot traffic to the bank. They have to sign in so the bank knows they’re there and sign a waiver if they are playing sports. Employees aren’t disturbed because there’s a soundproof wall between the court and their workspace. They, too, use the space during lunch for basketball and jumping rope.

For after-hours use, groups and individuals need to sign up in advance and arrange for an electronic key that gives them entry into the facility through a locked side door. They do not have access to the rest of the building during off-banking hours.

The space has been so powerful for branding and customer acquisition that Bertrand’s only regret is not making the court bigger. “This is just one more aspect of bringing people to the bank not just for banking, but to really embrace our community here,” he says.

Cheryl Winokur Munk is a financial writer in New Jersey.