Credit unions’ fixed asset investments and operating expenses are rising as they expand branch reach. To offset rising fixed costs and maintain operating efficiency, credit unions are implementing branch productivity enhancements that in many cases can also enhance the member experience.
Two weeks ago, we examined the impact of personnel strategy on branch productivity in The Many “Faces” of Branch Productivity, This week, we look at technology that is contributing to higher branch productivity and stronger member relationships.
The Impact of Technology on Operations
Technology plays a critical role in credit unions’ overall service and product delivery strategies. Internet home banking and bill pay are now commonplace at credit unions over $25 million—more than 84 percent offer home banking and 65 percent offer online bill pay. Yet rising member demand for and use of the online delivery channel has not dampened the importance of branch transactions or interactions.
In the branch environment, technology can streamline staff operations and boost member convenience. When self-service channels are available, branch employees have more time to spend with those members whose needs can only be met through personal interactions. Paperless branches, electronic signatures and more user-friendly software can eliminate the tedious work of processing transactions and applications.
Improving Self-Service Channels
In a recent Synergistics Research Corp. phone survey published by the American Banker, 94 percent of respondents said they deal with tellers when they visit their primary financial institution. Clearly, there is a dramatic opportunity for cost savings if members can be encouraged to use self-service channels such as ATMs, remote teller systems, and kiosks. Ironically, as popular as branches are, not everyone is entering them hoping for a face-to-face transaction, so changing member behavior may not be that difficult.
The self-service channel made the biggest national splash in 2000 when 7-Eleven teamed up with American Express to provide kiosks for check cashing, money orders, and other services at more than 1,000 locations. Credit unions have been tapping into the same appeal to convenience, using kiosks both as staff supplements within their branches and in lieu of branches. Kiosks are ideal for limiting the cost of staffing and for providing locations at sponsor and SEG sites.
Kiosks, both within traditional branches and as free-standing supplements to a branch network, allow members to do everything from filling out a loan application to taking a tutorial about the credit union’s website. Credit unions are moving beyond the 7-Eleven model of transaction-focused kiosks and treating them more as educational tools and member touch-points.
Electronic Storage of Files
In a branch context, technology can do even more than replace face-to-face interactions—it can improve the speed and service quality of transactions through effective file management. For example, branch staff can use technology to access copies of forms or applications, duplicate statements, or copies of canceled share drafts. This is ideal for smaller credit unions without large storage facilities or credit unions with expansive or shared branch networks.
Credit unions can also use technology to maintain the personalized service that they pride themselves on providing, even as the branch network grows. For example, Synergistics found that 43 percent of banking customers cited being greeted by name as a top staffing improvement. Credit unions can make stored member information available to all branches so even new tellers can greet long-time members by name and dispense with all but essential requests for identification.