Reimagined branches shift to member, not CU, needs: Council white paper

October 29, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (10/30/14)--Two CUNA councils have teamed up to help redefine what, exactly, a credit union branch needs to be these days.

In a paper called "Re-Imagining the Branch: Optimizing your Brick-and Mortar for Sales, Services and Branding Strategies," CUNA's Operations, Sales and Service Council and the Marketing and Business Development Council dig into trends in the evolution of the branch.

What they found is that it's becoming more common than ever to encounter branch facilities that are designed with members' needs in mind first.

"Historically, branches were developed from the credit union's perspective, with the credit union considering ease of operations, efficiencies, security and things like that before anything else," said Raja Bose, vice president of branch transformation and advisory services for Diebold, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.

"Now, more enlightened credit unions are starting by looking at things from the perspective of their members, which is key because doing so changes the resulting branch experience and makes it more intuitive and even enjoyable," Bose said.

Despite the migration by members from the physical branch to the convenient mobile channel, Bose says it's still vital that credit unions maximize their branches, as he says 75% or more of all new financial relationships begin at the branch.

"While branches are expensive and are becoming increasingly less relevant to customers and members, they're still where banks and credit unions get most of their sales," Bose said. "That's still where most accounts are opened."

That's why reimagining the credit union is a must, the paper argues.

The paper details several examples of how several credit unions are doing just that:

  • Replacing the teller line with remote teller systems: Coastal FCU, Raleigh, N.C., with $2.3 billion in assets, has made the transition to personal teller machines (PTMs), and the move has cut costs for the credit union while also improving the member experience. "Instead of having a branch with 10 people--half or more of which were tellers--we've now got PTMs plus three or four of what we call account managers, or relationship managers, who open accounts and make loans;"
  • A less-transactional and more-social branch experience: Element FCU, Charleston, W.Va., with $23 million in assets, built cafes in its branches to make them feel more casual and inviting. In addition to creating a space for members to have coffee or tea, the cafes provide places for credit union staffers to sit with members when closing a loan or having some other kind of financial conversation; and
  • Ditching the bank brand for a retail feel: Trailhead CU, Portland, Ore., with $96 million in assets, has designed its branches in several retail-feeling ways. At one branch, the front of the store is a glass garage door that is kept open when weather permits. The idea is to create an "anti-corporate, casual relaxed and authentic" motif that looks and feels more like a coffee shop than a financial institution. The result? The average age of the members who use that branch location is 33.

CUNA Council members are eligible to receive free copies of the white paper, which can be found at