CEO Discusses Credit Union Branches

Theresa Mann, President and CEO, Asks “What’s in a Branch?”

August 17—What’s in a branch?

Bank and Credit Union branches are not what they used to be. When I was a kid, I remember getting a lollipop when my mom went through the bank drive thru in our small town.  Then, when I was older, I remember getting my savings passbook stamped inside of the branch when I made a deposit.

After I began working for a Credit Union, I recognized how much effort goes into making a branch relevant for the needs of today’s consumer.  Long gone are the expectations that people will walk into a branch for everything that they need.  Today, customers want and need all access channels to be relevant.  Whether they buy a car over the weekend, travel out of the country, are on a temporary assignment out of town, lose their credit card while on vacation or apply for a loan after normal banking hours, they simply must have technology that is secure, and provides convenient and low cost access to information and to their money.

Over the years we implemented a lot of new technology, which was cool!  After all, the cost of it was decreasing which made it more affordable for financial institutions of all sizes to get in the game.  We introduced mobile check deposit not very long after USAA pioneered the service.  Boy, we were proud.  And online lending and approval was not far after and now the majority of our borrowers apply for a loan via their computer and never, ever talk to a person, ever.  We were achieving technology goals one after the other, making members super happy, when the harsh reality hit.  Silence.  Where did everybody go?  Remember all of those employees that we hired, trained, paid and were responsible to be keeping busy (and satisfied)?  Well, all of a sudden we find them sitting there in the branch with no one to talk to (think about the Maytag repair man, if you are old enough to remember him).  We tried to repurpose tellers, but you can probably guess why that does not work.  When a member walks in they expect service, and not just any service, but smart, fast and accurate service.  This level of commitment is what I would expect too.  But from my side of the branch, it’s expensive to offer and nearly impossible to maintain with such a small amount of foot traffic.

The truth is that this is happening all over the country, to both large and small institutions.  And we have the numbers to prove it.  Along the way, a few experts predicted that the branch would soon be irrelevant and a few institutions even started charging customers to use a teller.  That did not last long making it painfully obvious that institutions would be expected to provide all channels to our members.  The reality is that some branches, while nice to have, are simply too expensive to maintain when enough customers do not use them.

So it comes down to how people transact their business.  My son who is in 5th grade will never experience a traditional phone booth, a hard-back encyclopedia or a savings passbook.  He will likely apply for his first mortgage inside of an app, pay for his lunch with his phone and get his account balances the same way he plays his music – by asking someone named Alexa.  The world has changed.  This realization makes me sad and happy, scared and excited, frustrated and optimistic.  What has not changed is our commitment to you, the owners of our Credit Union.  Our core purpose is to provide value through partnership to those who advance and promote the interests of the public.  In order to provide VALUE, we must maintain low costs, high quality and convenient access.

And while no decision is easy, some are necessary like closing a branch with traditional tellers, and fully automating cash transactions. More than half of our members live outside of the DC Metro area and many tell us that they find it easy to use the Credit Union.  Our members can use more than 5,000 branches located nationwide convenient to where you live, work or commute.  These branches are helpful when you need to deposit cash or obtain a cashier’s check when you cannot afford to wait for one to be mailed to you.  We offer more than 30,000 ATM’s with no surcharge, and make it easy to deposit checks at one of 9,000 ATMS, or at your personal convenience with our mobile banking app.  Our state-of-the-art online banking allows for fast, easy and safe access 24/7.  Cashing checks can also be easy using an ATM to deposit and withdraw from your account.

Thankfully we are able to provide convenient access across remote channels. We hope you will give us the opportunity to help you to identify alternatives that make your banking easy, without access to traditional cash handling services.


Theresa B. Mann