By Patrick Totty

Published in Credit Union Magazine print September 2016 issue, pages 46-48.

Is the era of the brick-and-mortar credit union branch coming to an end? Yes and no.

Yes, credit unions will build fewer branches over the next few years as mobile technology becomes even more widespread. But no, branches won't become obsolete.

The same technology that makes it less necessary to build so many new branches also endows those that remain with attractive high-tech capabilities. Alissa Fry-Harris, director of marketing at Bluepoint Solutions, sees a generational affinity for brick-and-mortar branches. Members accustomed to branches continue to visit them, and while a slow decline in branch construction is likely, that won't necessarily lead to extinction.

"I shop often on Amazon," she says, ""but still go to brick-and-mortar Macy's."

"One key to maintaining branches' relevance," says Fry-Harris, "is using technology to enhance the branch experience by building cross-platform capabilities. That's where members see the same visuals and capabilities. That's where members see the same visuals and capabilities on whatever platform they're using - desktop, tablet, smartphone, even 'dumb' terminal."

Because credit unions have a historic appetite for technology investments, "they understand that a branch must both be able to attract members and save on labor expenses," Fry-Harris says.

Branches do so by offering:

  • Self-service capability, including accommodating phone and laptops;
  • ATMs (including inside units); and
  • Teller kiosks where members can talk to a centrally located teller (no need to have the employee onsite).

"One sticking point about this technology," Fry-Harris says, "is getting branch-favoring members accustomed to it. It's like what happens when a supermarket introduces self-service checkout: People need to adjust."

She advises credit unions to have roving greeters who can show members how to use branch technology.