Branch Problems Are The PIT's

One credit union’s process improvement team tackles inefficiencies and problems. Up now? The future of the branch.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Community First Credit Union of Florida created a process improvement team three years ago.
  • The cross-functional team identifies better ways to do business and has even reconsidered branch strategy.

The training department at Community First Credit Union Of Florida ($2.0B, Jacksonville, FL) operates a centralized portal through which staff at the north Florida cooperative can submit requests to update procedures. Three years ago, though, the credit union had an epiphany about the portal.

“There’s a difference between a procedure update and a process improvement,” says Jimmy Lovelace, the credit union’s senior vice president of member experience.

A procedure update, for example, might edit step nine in a 10-step sequence. A process improvement reconsiders why there are 10 steps at all.

With that understanding, the credit union established a process improvement team (PIT). The cross-functional team — which includes Lovelace and the credit union’s head of HR, with department heads rotated in — tackles employee suggestions for how to improve internal processes across the organization.

Jimmy Lovelace, SVP Member Experience, Community First Credit Union Of Florida

“The joke is if you throw something ‘in the PIT,’ we’ll wrestle with it,” Lovelace says. “People ask us, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if …’ and we try to come up with the answer.”

The team brings together all the necessary decision-makers into one place, allowing Community First to be agile when considering improvements. Of note, many of the improvements that have the biggest impact on members and staff don’t require fundamental changes, added disclosures, or regulatory workarounds. Regardless, as the PIT works on more improvements — to forms, emails, DocuSign, and overdraft limits — more ideas flow in.

“It changed culture,” Lovelace says. “If people were dubious things would improve, we showed them they did it.”

Currently, the credit union’s PIT is wrestling with a big topic: the future of the transaction.

“If people were dubious things would improve, we showed them they did it.”

Jimmy Lovelace, SVP Member Experience, Community First Credit Union Of Florida

Wanted: New Standards

COVID-19 changed plenty of variables in the realm of financial services, including the entire concept of the transaction. For the past year, that’s been an area of interest for Lovelace and his team.

“Historically, when you think about transactions, you think about deposits, withdrawals, and making change — quick things done at the teller line,” the SVP says. “With COVID-19, transactions took different forms.”

Unfortunately, Community First wasn’t equipped to take on those different forms — at least, not at first. But it had the PIT. Although, historically, PIT had focused on friction-filled processes, COVID-19 forced PIT to fix problems presented by restrictions in the business model.

“Here’s a problem,” Lovelace says. “Our members can’t come into a branch, but we aren’t able to open accounts over the phone.”

That was one branch-focused problem, but it wasn’t the only one. So, PIT started reviewing branch processes. The biggest problem it identified? The credit union required members to come to the branch.

“Many of our processes were intentionally designed to bring people to the branch to complete requests,” Lovelace says. “We had to set all new standards.”

“Many of our processes were intentionally designed to bring people to the branch to complete requests. We had to set all new standards.”

Jimmy Lovelace, SVP Member Experience, Community First Credit Union Of Florida

One obvious solution was to move the branch outside and have employees serve members totally through drive-thru or curbside service. But that wasn’t the credit union’s style.

So, it built a better process. The first step involved a simple editing trick — the credit union simply removed prompts to come into the branch from marketing and messaging. Beyond that, however, Community First had to ensure it could operate correctly in a branch-lite model.

The Future Of The Branch

Tackling the branch might seem like a foreboding charge, but at Community First, the PIT approaches problems without pretense. It ties no emotion to its subject. There is only the problem and the solution.

That said, many things changed in short order.

Community First transitioned its branch employees to a universal model several years ago, so branch teams were trained up and ready to be deployed in different ways to adjust to the pandemic. Branches shifted to an appointment-only model, which allowed the credit union to determine what kind of transactions its employees would process.

“We looked for things that take less than five minutes but are hard for our members to do on their own,” Lovelace says.

That includes activities like reordering debit cards and making wire transfers. The credit union made these easier during the pandemic by increasing authentication speed for reorders and more broadly using DocuSign for wire transfers.

The later was a big shift for the credit union. Digitizing signatures was a key element to reworking in-branch transactions, but Community First hadn’t been using the system to its full capacity. So, the cooperative threw the problem to the PIT.

“We looked at the rules, we looked at our contract, and we realized we could use it for much more than we were,” Lovelace says.

CU QUICK FACTS

Community First Credit Union Of Florida
Data as of 12.31.20

HQ: Jacksonville, FL
ASSETS: $2.0B
MEMBERS: 150,441
BRANCHES: 19
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 20.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.2%
ROA: 0.92%

The credit union realized it can open new accounts and originate loans over the phone from end to end in fewer than 10 minutes. With that newfound ability, Community First set up a centralized sales team to handle incoming requests. It is transitioning branches to service and relationship centers.

Today, branches remain open for appointment banking, but Community First has seen a large reduction in in-branch transactions — by 40% — as members adjust their business to other channels. But what comes of the branch?

Right now, Community First is busy setting aspirational goals for the percentage of new accounts that arrive through non-branch channels. Today, that percentage ranges between 20%-30%, but Lovelace thinks those numbers could easily double in the next five years. No matter how high that number gets, however, the branch will always have a role at Community First. It will just be different.

There will likely be fewer staff members processing more complicated transactions. Staff, also, will focus on deepening relationships of the members who do walk into a branch. For the physical space, that might become more of a community center.

Otherwise, the branch will become a powerful outbound hub, with local bankers calling books of business and answering video calls, Lovelace says.

“Members won’t have to go to the branch anymore,” he says. “But we’ll find a rewarding use for our branch staff’s time.”

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