For a lot of your members, a branch is a last resort

I hate branches

I’m a branch hater. There, I said it.

When I need to get something done with money, visiting a credit union branch has been the absolute last resort for, well, for pretty much my whole life. Branches are time-consuming, inconvenient, and never open when I need them.

How many of your members feel the same way? How many of your members are branch lovers? Maybe you should find out.

Am I the weird one?

A few days ago, I was reading this article on Financial Brand where a megabank CXO discusses the changes brought about by COVID-19. With over 1,000 branches, they’re suddenly adapting to a world where the branch is no longer the primary service channel.

My first, unfiltered thought was “Well, duh.” And my second thought was “Wait, branches are still anyone’s primary service channel? In 2020?”

Maybe I’m the weirdo here. Apparently, there are still a lot of branch lovers out there.

I hated branches before branch-hating was cool.

In high school, I had an account at the same bank my parents used, and I remember what a pain it was to get there in time after school to deposit my paychecks from my part-time grocery store job. To get cash, I had to stop by when the bank was open.

When I turned 18, I was finally able to apply for an ATM card (yes, you had to apply back then). By the way, remember when ATMs dispensed $5 bills? That came in handy quite often as a perpetually broke student.

In college I moved my vast double-digit holdings over to Purdue Federal Credit Union, and signed up as soon as I could when their spiffy new touch-tone telephone banking system became available. When the hospital I worked for part-time began offering Direct Deposit, I was first in line to save all the driving and waiting.

Later on, after I graduated and started working in marketing at the credit union (I built their very first website!), I was one of the first to apply for and use a debit card. I signed up for online banking the second it was available, even though it was pretty terrible and slow at first. And of course, I’ve paid all my bills online ever since it was possible. I haven’t written a personal check in years.

Branches for branch-haters

Obviously, I’m a hardcore early adopter. So yes, I’m a little unusual. But I have a lot more company nowadays.

Lots of CU branches are still around, and will be for a good long time yet. There’s some evidence that people have more trust or feel reassured when there’s a branch within easy reach, even if they hardly ever actually visit; branch location still correlates pretty heavily to member location.

But even if it seems a little negative, it’s important to do some serious thinking about your branches and your brand from the branch-hater perspective.

For me, and for a lot of your members, a branch is a last resort, a aggravating, inconvenient place to get something done when there’s absolutely no other alternative.

What can you do to make that experience positive? How can you make the need for visiting a branch even more rare, with better online tools and information? For example, online chat, bots, FAQs, help files, videos, video conferencing, and online forms can help people help themselves more and more. And of course online account opening, loan apps, automated approvals, and even online mortgages are basic essentials in 2020.

If visiting a branch can’t be avoided, how can you make it as quick, seamless and pleasant as possible? Even better, could you send someone to the member instead?

Some people still love branches

On the other side, some people really do like visiting branches. How can you replace more and more of those branch-based processes in ways that still make these people feel connected and safe?

If you can replace or automate more of the “routine” stuff, the branches can be used for those “bigger” occasions, or times when members could use a little extra advice and encouragement.

Maybe you can take the opportunity to create an even better, more engaging branch experience for the people who really want it. For example, a lot of people might feel more comfortable filling out a loan or mortgage app in person so they can ask questions and make sure they’re filling it out correctly. Maybe you could offer an in-person “first time car buyer advisor”, or perhaps a “concierge mortgage service”.

Branches and brand

Of course, the right blend of branch answers is different for every credit union. You probably see more of the “branch lovers” day-to-day, but it’s important to pay attention to us branch haters, too.

Dig in to your branch and member stats and learn what you can about your branch lovers and branch haters. Who has a lot of activity and lives or works nearby but never shows up in person? Who’s still not using online banking, and why? Which group is most profitable? How are they different, and how are they similar?

The total member experience is crucial to your brand and brand loyalty, so make sure everyone is getting the best possible experience.

Even if they never see a branch.

Brian Wringer

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