Offer Seamless Service

Expand delivery channels to give members better service.

January 1, 2011

Many of us remember our credit unions’ first service delivery point: the “original” office—probably located in rented or free space somewhere in the primary sponsor’s facility. Many credit unions started with part-time hours—a couple of afternoons each week, and all day on paydays.

Times have changed! Many credit unions now operate 24/7, 365 days a year, from numerous branches and service delivery channels. Now a single physical branch lacking additional delivery options isn’t sufficient to serve an expanding field of membership. To survive, credit unions must expand service delivery through:

• Branches: For some credit unions, adding more physical locations is the chosen means to expand delivery. Having a “personal presence” in your service area allows for community involvement, local staff, and local decisions. Another option—shared branching—allows credit unions to share facilities and staff.

• ATMs: Initially introduced as stand-alone devices for dispensing cash, ATMs have evolved into national networks that give account information and cash anywhere in the world. As with branches, sharedlocal and national ATM networks can provide service delivery into communities where your credit union doesn’t have a physical branch.

• Voice response units (VRU): Providing service via touch-tone telephone was a late ’80s innovation. Live member contact switched to automated contact for routine inquiries. Questions about account balances, check clearings, posted deposits, and other routine requests were removed from financial institutions’ more expensive “human resource” budgets.

• Call or contact centers: This model evolved for financial institutions in the late ’90s into a place consumers could call for simple service requests that VRUs couldn’t handle. Credit union call centers now operate 24/7 as full-service channels that can handle incoming calls (covering all basic transaction types) and outbound calls (reaching out to members for cross-selling and collections).

• Plastic cards: Checks finally are diminishing as a payment option. (Remember when that was prophesied in the ’70s and ’80s?) Now plastic cards (debit and credit) are displacing checks as consumers’ preferred method to access funds. Written check volume at State Employees’ Credit Union, for example, is decreasing about 7% to 10% per year, due in part to a sharp increase in plastic card use. Recent legislation is changing that industry, but cards won’t go away. They’ll remain a viable delivery channel for years to come.

• Chip or “smart” cards: The rapid rise in plastic card use has spurred increases in fraud and counterfeit cards. Smart cards—the norm in much of Europe and Asia—have small computer chips imbedded in the plastic to prevent counterfeiting. While it will take several years for smart cards to be fully accepted in the U.S., merchants are already deploying terminals, and manufacturers are upgrading ATMs, to read the chips. Consumers are tired of data breeches and fraud. Members expect your credit union to protect them.

• Internet/mobile/text: Just like VRU technology before it, the Internet moves many routine transactions to self-service mode. The next logical step is to make some or all of these services available via mobile channels. Experts predict mobile Internet users will exceed desktop Internet users by the end of 2013. Texting and text alerts also offer quick service to mobile members.

• Social networks: Facebook and YouTube, together, account for nearly one-third of Internet page views, according to a recent InformationWeek report. Marketing companies are increasingly relying on these two sites to influence consumers. Is your credit union embracing this trend?

• Integrated/unified communications: Rising stars in the online arena are chat, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone conversations, and video. Integrated communication will allow members to contact you via any channel and switch channels seamlessly.

The single branch channel is a thing of the past for financial services. Prepare now for existing and developing delivery options, so you’ll be ready when members demand them.

SUE DOUGLAS is senior vice president, operations, at State Employees’ CU, Raleigh, N.C., and vice chair of the CUNA Operations, Sales and Service Council. Contact her at 919-839-5000 . For more information about CUNA Councils, visit