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ESI Design and PNC Bank

PNC Fairfax Connection: Beyond Standard Financial Services


Local bankers have always been trusted advisors and friends. The values that hold communities together are manifested in the dreams that local banks help customers realize. With the help of ESI Design, PNC Bank has taken that concept a step further through the PNC Fairfax Connection. PNC Fairfax Connection opened in 2012 to support the community with programs that help people learn and prosper on Cleveland’s east side. 

PNC Fairfax Connection is unlike any other service offered by a bank. It’s a dynamic space and an adaptable model for community engagement. Based on meetings with local residents and cultural, educational and religious organizations in Fairfax, ESI developed the overall design for the center, including the technology and systems design, as well as programming that answered the community’s needs. From the flexible spaces, to the digital platform, to the green building systems, the PNC Fairfax Connection was collaboratively designed with the community to connect people, support growth, and evolve with their changing needs over time. On opening day many within the community already felt ownership. 

What had been a nondescript building housing a dry cleaners and a pizza shop became a thriving community hub. ESI Design engineered the center’s physical environment to address visitors’ needs. The technology implemented has been key to the overall success: members get RFID fobs that identify them and prompt a digital greeting, and the center features a state-of-the-art digital production studio and a giant touchscreen used for various programming. 

The center has had an immediate impact. Boasting 16,000 visitors in 2018 and 7,500 members, PNC Fairfax Connection features 30 different programs including classes on financial and tech literacy, healthy cooking, college prep, and workforce development. When PNC offers free financial empowerment classes, students line up to talk to the experts after class so they can make important financial decisions. Members have access to PNC financial resources such as mortgage experts, personal bankers, and financial literacy courses. Fairfax Connection connects them to bank resources they might have been too intimidated to access. In past 2.5 years, more than 150 members have gained employment with the help of the center. 

The social value of Fairfax Connection is intrinsically linked to its value to members, and there are dozens of stories of how the center has helped improve the lives of people in the neighborhood. Fairfax is a historically working-class, African-American neighborhood. As community members gain financial and technological literacy through the center’s programming, through opportunities that were not otherwise available, the overall wellbeing of the community is improved. 

For Skye, PNC Fairfax Connection has been the catalyst to help her rejoin the workforce. One day four years ago, she stopped in to see what the center was all about. She took computer and professional development classes that helped her find a job as a teacher, and she has since taken every class PNC Fairfax Connection offers. Skye also has a four-year-old daughter that she calls a “PNC baby” because her daughter has attended every class with her. “I have not stopped going since I had her. They’re watching her grow up.”

The financial value of corporate social responsibility initiatives can be difficult to measure. In the case of PNC Fairfax Connection, the clearest financial success has been strengthening the backbone of the community. In helping raise the economic opportunities of the community, PNC is creating relationships with community members who may turn to PNC for their financial services as their needs grow. 

One of the earliest examples of a non-traditional community and context-centered initiatives by a major company, the center is a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility, incorporating community engagement into every step of the design-led process to deliver innovative customer-centric social value as well as sustainable financial value.


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