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The Branch of 2016: Going Beyond Digital to Build Relationships and Communities
Wednesday, April 20, 2016 6:25 AM

Branches have been the foundation of the credit union service proposition since the beginning. While many simple transactions formerly handled by tellers are migrating to digital channels, that doesn’t mean branches are becoming a thing of the past. In fact, branches continue to deliver unique value to your members and, when managed well, remain one of your most strategic assets.

Branches by the Numbers

According to 2015 FDIC research recently reported by the Financial Brand, financial institutions continue to operate more than 94,000 branches nationwide today. A recent Bankrate poll determined that 45 percent of Americans had visited a branch within 30 days of being surveyed. And Alite Group research also reported in the Financial Brand finds that U.S. consumers open 28.3 million checking accounts in person annually, but only 7.2 million via a financial institution’s website and less than two million using a smart device. 

So while a focus on fast-evolving mobile and digital platforms is vital for credit unions, so is an investment in branching. Ultimately, for consumers, there are simply times when business is best conducted face to face.

Lessons from the Retail World

This dynamic is playing out across retailers as well. According to a 2014 study by consulting firm A.T. Kearney, even in the age of Amazon, 90 percent of all U.S. retail sales transactions occur in a physical store. The survey also revealed that 95 percent of all sales transactions are completed with retailers that maintain a bricks-and-mortar presence, and that more than two-thirds of customers that purchased online visited the merchant’s physical store either before or following the transaction.

What this teaches us is that consumers value human interaction and will many times opt for the more dimensional experience of a live venue. The question for credit unions is how to transform the branch experience into one that engages members, deepens their loyalty and communicates the unique value your credit union brings to their financial outlook.

Self-Service Delivers Speed and Convenience

Ultimately, your branch should be designed to serve members in any way they want to be served, and having the right self-service strategy in place helps you achieve this. Surveys, time and again, reflect that members value convenience and speed. And self-service works best when technologies deliver the same level of service that a live teller gives. So if a bank of smart ATMs makes it convenient for members to access their accounts, deploy the technology. Give them universal access to accounts so they can easily make payments and transfer funds. Enable automated deposits of mixed bills and notes, and support cash withdrawals down to the penny. 

And remember that the human touch matters. Consider equipping your ATMs with a video concierge option that connects members to representatives – and support self-service tools with a friendly full-service employee who can step in to assist members as needed. 

Employees Are Your Brand Ambassadors

While technology is powerful, it is not all-powerful. Migrating routine transactions to self-service channels can make the branch experience fast and convenient for members, but only your employees can provide the kind of personalized, human-centered experiences that help build relationships. So elevate the role of employees in the branch. Empower them to grow revenue across your offerings by first getting to know members and then guiding them to the products and services that will best strengthen their financial picture. 

Whereas the employee of the past was busy counting bills, today’s branch employee is there to engage with your community. Unlike a for-profit bank, you authentically have your members’ best interests at the core of what you do. So converse with members, offer them complimentary services, and take every opportunity to forge connections that enrich their branch experience and inspire their loyalty.

Building Communities with Cause Marketing

As credit unions, we exist to spread “local love” and to build communities. These founding principles have stood the test of time and continue to run deep in our DNA today. So give back – and give members the chance to give back as well. Investing in community outreach programs speaks to your social values, is meaningful to members and sets your credit union apart from other financial institutions. Remember that members are drawn to credit unions first and foremost because of our purpose and mission of people helping people.

Education as a Service

Fintech is expanding rapidly all around us, making it difficult for even the most tech-savvy consumer to keep pace. That is where your value as a financial institution really shines. Your ability to help members decipher an increasingly complicated financial landscape is a valuable service that delivers new innovations to them while positioning you as a valued adviser and thought leader. Introduce members to new, highly secure digital wallet options, help them realize the ease and convenience of P2P solutions and place the power to fight card fraud squarely in their hands by equipping them with card controls and alerts. Educate your employees so they can, in turn, teach members. Hold seminars on financial planning, post educational blogs on your website and publish an informational newsletter. 

Becoming a valued resource to members will strengthen your branches and transform them into inviting hubs of activity that build member relationships and cultivate a sense of community. You can learn more about maximizing the value of branches at

CO-OP Financial Services is a financial technology company that supports its network of 3,500 credit unions and their 60 million members by providing a cutting-edge suite of customizable tools and services. The company was the first in its industry to merge purpose, innovation and technology to help credit unions advance the industry mission of "people helping people.”