Q&A: How Technology Shapes CU Branch Design

Expect video conferencing and mobile marketing to take root in modern branches.

September 12, 2014
KEYWORDS design , technology
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LGE Community Credit Union

Consultants & Builders, Inc., created this rendering of LGE Community CU's modern branch that it designed and is constructing in Canton, Ga.

It’s one thing to design a branch to meet the needs of today’s consumer.

It’s another to anticipate how brick-and-mortar facilities will be used in five, 10, or 25 years.

In the second part of our discussion of the evolution of credit union branches, Credit Union Magazine sought insights on this topic from Mark Maness, executive vice president of Consultants & Builders, Inc. (CBI), Norcross, Ga., and Lisa Darling, assistant vice president of human resources/quality assurance research & development at Visions Federal Credit Union, Endicott, N.Y.

This conversation focuses on the technology driving branch use and design now and in coming years. The first part of this conversation centered on the impact of innovations at retail outlets on credit union branch design.


CU Magazine: How do you stay ahead of technological advances and shifts in consumer preferences?

Maness: We follow what retailers are researching and doing—by attending Retail’s Big Show in New York City, for example. Two years ago, consumers began completing their own transactions at retail stores, and now that’s happening in credit unions.

This year retailers have enough data on customers when they come in the door to tailor their experiences specifically—rather than broadly. What retailers do today, financial institutions will do later.

CU Magazine: Which technologies is your CU using?

Lisa Darling: As our branches become more regionally diversified, video conferencing has been highly effective in our internal operations. The same is true for member service, but when a member visits a branch we focus on the personal interaction.

Our members have many choices. Should they wish to conduct their business remotely or at 3 a.m., they can use channels such as home banking, mobile banking, text banking, and express deposit platforms.

SIDEBAR: A Closer Look at Visions FCU's Themed Branch Designs

CU Magazine: Can you explain some of the new technologies aimed at better serving members?

Maness: You see video conferencing, but really only in larger credit unions. Depending on the service you choose it can be overwhelmingly expensive.

It’s not nearly as big as I thought it would be, but I think it will continue to grow as new providers enter the market. You can do it with an iPad, but security’s an issue—you have to make sure no one can hack in.

There’s also micro location, which is mostly an Apple term for its iBeacon mobile marketing system. You have beacons in your lot to identify members as they drive in.

They opt in when they download the credit union’s app, and you can tell on an iPad what accounts members have and which products they’re likely to want. For instance, if they have a 17-year-old child going to college soon, they might need certain products.

In Bed, Bath and Beyond, if you stand in front of the towels, iBeacon knows you’re there and offers you a discount. This is really the front end of the trend for financial institutions. Other retailers are doing this now, and we’ll see it in six months to a year in financial institutions.

The best technology for a particular credit union depends on its size, region, and other factors. With some New York City financial institutions, you can go to an ATM and see a teller when you press a button, and the teller might be in another state.

For a credit union under $100 million in assets, it’s not worthwhile to consider. You have to house the tellers and buy equipment for roughly $150,000.

It works for Bank of America to have a micro branch like that—with live tellers—and in some places the technology makes sense, but for only a very few credit unions. The technology is cool, but only where it makes good business sense.

VIEW: Photos of CBI's Modern Branch Designs

CU Magazine: What role will ATMs play in coming years?

Darling: You can deposit a check through remote deposit capture, but you can’t turn it to cash. I think ATMs will continue to serve as a core convenience.

Maness: Only about half of Americans have smart phones, and that has stayed stable. If anything, I think we’ll see more ATMs in lobbies than traditional teller lines.

We just completed a credit union building where the only way you can get cash is through four ATMs. If I help you on-screen, when it’s time for cash, we walk to an ATM. That branch is this credit union’s fastest-growing facility by far.

CU Magazine: What should be CUs’ primary take-away on branch design?

Maness: Like Starbucks or Apple, credit unions are selling commodities. Coffee and computers are commodities, but Starbucks and Apple have made acquiring their products cooler.

The prices are the same, but the experience at other retailers is not cool. People can shop online and get lower rates for financial products, so you have to make the experience cooler.

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