7 Steps To Build A Successful Virtual Branch

Is your largest branch open for business?


What if your credit union could compete with any bank in the country? And what if you could provide your members access to everything they need to handle their financial business on their own terms? Transactions, account information, loan services, savings options, product news, financial education — whatever they’re looking for, when and how they want it. With focus, commitment, and technology, you can bring all of your remote services into a comprehensive “e” strategy to make “what if” a reality.

Some argue that technology harms personal interaction with members. Others believe it’s too expensive and too time-consuming to craft a concerted e-services program. But with the right plan, a virtual branch is more affordable than maintaining a large physical footprint. And offering both digital and traditional channels improves member relationships. It’s the smartest way to compete.

Level The Field

For years credit unions have been hoping to compete on a level playing field with the largest banks. Bank of America has 6,000 branches. Wells Fargo has 3,300. TD Bank 1,300. You can’t “out branch” those competitors in physical locations. But virtual branches and remote channels level the playing field so every credit union can compete with the largest banks. A complete eStrategy helps credit unions position themselves as a viable alternative to the largest financial institutions – removing the need to compete through extensive resources and a wide footprint.

Attach An “E” To Your Service Strategy

Your virtual branch requires an eStrategy built around today’s technology, one that leverages current technologies to manage members’ transactions, provide anytime customer service, and optimize budgets. Armed with a unified plan, you can connect your eServices and delivery channels, strengthening your credit union’s digital capabilities and enhancing member service. You also can better target communication opportunities through a greater variety of channels, shifting away from mass communication toward one-to-one messaging.

What’s Your Digital Footprint?

Before mapping your eStrategy, it’s helpful to review your current remote delivery channels to see how they stack up from a digital perspective. Consider the following questions:

  • Does your website share information and education, deliver services, and provide access to social media?
  • Are there limits to your online banking program’s ability to make transactions, open accounts, and retrieve documents? Does it align with members’ online needs?
  • What mobile transaction capabilities do you offer? Can you send various information, operational alerts, or marketing messages?
  • Do your current communication channels include the ability to send and receive emails, text messages, voice messages, smart apps, and video content?
  • What options do members have for conducting transactions via ATMs, shared branches, call centers, AVR, RDC, and mobile capture? How tied are you to branch locations?

Knowing where your credit union stands digitally will prepare you to move ahead with your eStrategy development.

A Path To Success

Creating and implementing an effective eStrategy takes time, but it shouldn’t be intimidating. Break the process into these seven key steps to help:

  1. Set your eStrategy goals. Decide on the goal. Do you want to drive more members to digital services? Add more members? Increase convenience? Eliminate branch overhead? Read up on the latest trends and projections, and incorporate those that fit into your objectives.
  2. Integrate the processes and tools you need, reject those you don’t. Smartphones, tablets, and other remote channels are causing a sea change in how customers interact with businesses. Websites that are static or don’t work with new devices don’t cut it. Nor do PDF forms or e-blast messages.
  3. Create an “e” position on the organization chart. Dedicate a staff position to an eStrategy and marketing expert — apart from traditional marketing functions. Give this manager the responsibility, accountability, and authority to execute your eStrategy
  4. Collect customer contact points.Compile an accurate list of members’ email, cell phone, and home contact information. Make sure it is maintained and up to date.
  5. Drive messaging toward one-to-one communication. Personalization is replacing e-blasts. Make your communications about the member, not the credit union. Stop sending identical promotional alerts to all members. Instead, use technology to tailor messaging toward individual recipients.
  6. Open data for event-driven marketing and communications. Allow access to MCIF data to customize and enhance communications across all digital channels. Members are using new devices and thrive on personalization. You’ll need to know each end-user as if they were your best friend.
  7. Get local. Point your strategy toward your local market and the one place your optimized virtual branch will give you a competitive edge. Position your technology for consistent, managed, and virtual contact at every online level where members want to conduct their financial business.

Increasingly, consumers are managing their financial activities remotely, via smartphones, tablets, eBooks, and other mobile devices. Credit unions can keep up or fall behind. So, here’s the question all credit union executives should be asking: Is my largest branchmy virtual branch — open for business?




July 2, 2012


  • It's disappointing that the article did not take into account the role of shared branching. In fact, through shared branching credit unions out pace both Wells Fargo and TD Bank with over 4,500 branch locations. If you consider self-service devices, credit unions have over 6,000 physical access points to compliment their virtual branch strategy.
    Craig Beach