Banking

4 ways credit unions can keep branches relevant

During a stay in London as part of a speaking tour in 1897, Mark Twain became ill. When rumors of the severity of his illness began to circulate, an American journalist sent a cable to learn the details. It was Twain himself who received the cable and famously replied, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Kyle Floyd, principal, Stature Design, a division of DD&F Consulting Group

Similar rumors are circulating about the future of branches, but in our experience, those reports are also greatly exaggerated. Clearly the pandemic has accelerated massive changes in service delivery, but many of those changes were already happening, regarding meeting consumers where they are. Peoples’ financial services preferences can differ widely depending on a person’s age, the region they live in and the type of service they need, among other things. Beware the rumors that the branch is dead, because the reality is that banks and credit unions will need to offer multiple service-delivery options to stay competitive, and many will determine that brick-and-mortar is an important part of the mix.

But this isn’t another article to explain why things will never be the same. That message is getting a little old. Instead, here are a few ideas for how physical branches might evolve to better serve consumers and keep those institutions a valuable part of the community.

1. Bolster network security and infrastructure

Other than making coffee, there is very little that happens in a branch without the support of the network. Because security and speed are paramount, commercial-grade Wi-Fi will keep branch operations humming. Many services that have in the past been confined to certain areas of the bank or credit union can be offered from a tablet, the drive-thru or an interactive teller machine located somewhere else entirely. Digital signage is important to provide information and instructions, and can even be updated in real-time from a marketing team housed in another location.

But if network infrastructure is poorly designed, internal team operations, internet-based phone services and other functions will struggle to succeed. But perhaps even more important than the speed of a transaction is the security of your data. According to a survey of 571 community banks conducted by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, more than 70% of respondents ranked cybersecurity as their top concern. Digital transactions in the future won’t just happen from consumers’ couches, they will happen more and more frequently at the branch itself, and that’s why network security should be at the top of the priority list.

2. Better messaging and information zones

Remember cable TV? It’s still alive and well at many branches, but brand-savvy banks and credit unions are learning to utilize the branch as a platform for brand engagement. Instead of a traditional cable plug, monitors in the branch can be used to provide useful information about services, policies and safety protocols. They can be used to promote products, opportunities and community-involvement projects. Displays outside can communicate important information about how to navigate the drive-thru or about your business hours. A branch is a retail space, so paying attention to the sights and sounds that surround visitors will keep you from missing key opportunities to influence their comfort and grow their loyalty.

3. Rethink member service areas

Going forward, consumers will no longer come into your branch because they have to, but because they want to — for advice they can trust, for assurance or just to get out of the house. Rethinking the layout, the furniture and the “flow” can help the branch become a financial advisory center instead of just a place to make a deposit. Customer service can begin even before the front door. Many banks and credit unions have begun doing things curbside, including notarizations and document signings. Many consumers feel safer this way, and it could be more convenient for elderly or disabled visitors. After the front door, consider a hand sanitizer station or temperature-check kiosk to make guests feel at ease.

After that, it gets interesting. Many lenders are experimenting with a pod concept, similar to the layout of an Apple Genius Bar. At each pod, a universal banker can use a tablet to perform nearly any task a guest would visit the branch for, all from a pod that offers a degree of privacy and social distance. This might entail knocking down a few walls and replacing old furniture, but it was probably time for that anyway, right?

4. Improve security and access control

The key is to make your branch a welcoming and safe place. Technology can be used to protect your facility from physical intrusions that can lead to property damage or, even worse, a network security breach. Restricting entry to authorized personnel only and high-quality CCTV can help you rest more easily when the doors are closed.

Our clients have been dealing with these issues in a number of ways. While some have implemented network-wide changes, most have been testing upgrades in key locations only, and learning from those experiences through customer experience and operational efficiency metrics. This approach can help leadership make important decisions about the right solution for each branch. As the physical banking process becomes as much an advisory experience as a transactional one, consumers will appreciate the upgrades.



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