How High-Tech Branches Can Build Member Engagement

Technology offerings like smart kiosks at Bellco Credit Union free up universal employees to build deeper member relationships, originate loans, and cross-sell products.

 
 

The opening of Denver International Airport in 1995 forced the closing of nearby Stapleton International Airport, leaving behind a literal blank slate of concrete runways. It was an ideal canvas for the development that was recognized as the country’s 11th best-selling master-planned community in 2013. Today, the Denver neighborhood of Stapleton has more than 17,000 residents, approximately 3,000 of which are members of Bellco Credit Union ($2.5B, Greenwood Village, CO).

CU QUICK FACTS

BELLCO Credit Union
data as of 06.30.14
  • HQ: Greenwood Village, CO
  • ASSETS: $2.5B
  • MEMBERS: 234,691
  • EMPLOYEES: 337
  • BRANCHES: 22
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.62%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 11.64%
  • ROA: 1.17%

Despite this concentration of young, tech-savvy, community-focused members, Bellco didn’t have a Stapleton branch until April 2014, when the credit union opened its first branch of the future.

“We wanted to create an environment where members interact with our most knowledgeable staff,” says Jared Dryer, north district manager at Bellco. “We use technology to change our staffing model and build stronger relationships with our members.”

Although it operates at less than half the cost of a traditional Bellco branch, the Stapleton location is producing nearly $1 million in loan originations per month, putting it on par with the credit union’s other 20 branches.

Up Front

The high-tech, high-touch branch offers three in-lobby self-service teller terminals and an outdoor ATM. But far from being cold and impersonal, the branch offers a staff of universal bankers who stand ready to greet members and walk them through the new technology offerings. The kiosks handle the transactional side of the business — in fact, Stapleton branch employees do not handle  any cash at all — which frees up universal bankers to talk with members about financial education and how to ensure the member’s financial future.

“Our goal is to start a conversation so the universal banker has the opportunity to build a relationship with the member,” Dryer says. “Especially with the new concept, we’re looking for interaction up front.”

In this way, Bellco has not lost one-on-one service interaction or the opportunity to cross-sell its products. On the contrary, the new model has helped Bellco strengthen its sales culture and build stronger member relationships.

In its first full month open, the Stapleton branch originated $477,000 in loans. In June, it originated $1.2 million; in July, it originated $1.4 million; and in August, it originated $900,000. Stapleton’s universal bankers worked call lists and converted area members to Bellco products. After only a few months in operation, the branch is running on par with Bellco’s 20 other branches and for a less than half the operating cost.

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Under Foot

The Stapleton branch is a value-add for Bellco members, meaning it isn’t replacing an existing branch.

“We didn’t want to take an existing branch and convert it to this model,” Dryer says. “We knew our members would look at it as us taking something away.”

Instead, Bellco examined a map of the Denver metro to determine where there was a concentration of credit union members but no branch. The credit union cross-referenced those results with information on emerging areas of tech-friendly millennials. Stapleton met all the criteria.

Unfortunately, Bellco wasn’t the only financial institution courting the neighborhood. There were three other bank branches in the Stapleton area, but that didn’t stop Bello from recognizing the opportunity to try new ideas and better engage younger members.

Because it is serving a distinct subset of membership, Bellco was able to experiment with traditional branching concepts. For example, it introduced in-lobby teller machines where members can conduct basic transactions by themselves. For questions and services that require more hands-on assistance, universal bankers are there to help. These employees carry tablets to walk members through the credit union’s products and services. And for more privacy, four frosted-glass offices with 32-inch TVs allow members to follow along with what the employees are doing on those tablets.

The kiosks and TVs are part of Bellco’s effort to provide new technology and be more transparent while kiosk privacy screens and offices with frosted glass are part of its effort to protect personal information.

Bellco_3Bellco_5

Self-service teller terminals allow members to conduct transactions at their own pace while frosted-glass offices allow members to talk with universal bankers in privacy. Photos courtesy of Bellco Credit Union.

“It isn’t just an information free-for-all in the branch,” Dryer says.

In addition to offering an intriguing member experience, the Stapleton branch benefits the credit union in several ways. It requires less square footage than a traditional branch. Because of its size and lack of tellers, operating expenses are 58% lower than a traditional branch. The five-year operating cost of a Bellco full-service branch is $6.4 million. The five-year operating cost of the Stapleton branch is $2.7 million, yet it offers 97% of the services available at a traditional location and originates loan volume on par with other branches.

At Your Side

Depending on the day and the expected traffic, the branch requires a staff of three to five employees consisting of the universal bankers plus a branch manager.

Bellco’s four universal employees, a new concept for the credit union, are some of the most experienced and highly trained member-facing employees at the institution. They’re charismatic and outgoing, however, the credit union still put them through member interaction and relationship training to prepare them for their new role.

For example, Bellco expected some friction when it introduced the new technology. It’s a universal banker’s job to help members overcome their fears, so the credit union ran these employees through anticipated scenarios while on-site at the yet-to-open branch. It was like a dress rehearsal for the grand opening, and the new staff got the chance to practice asking members questions and making recommendations on how to build long-term financial stability.

Of course, for a universal banker to be successful, they must have a strong background in finances and know the ins and outs of the credit union and its offerings. Bellco’s universal bankers hail from diverse backgrounds, so each team member brings their own set of strengths. Of the four, one has a background in investments, one in mortgages, and one in management and operations.

The credit union expects its universal bankers to actively engage members at all times — even if it just to provide encouragement to try out the credit union’s new branching style. And so far, it seems the universal bankers are succeeding.

According to Dryer, in the early days of the Stapleton branch, approximately 20% of members froze when they walked into the branch because they were intimidated by the technology. Even with the assistance of the universal bankers, some of those members never came back to the Stapleton branch. But others did and yet other members are trying it out. Now, Bellco has reduced its tech-adverse branch traffic to 10%.

 

 

 

Oct. 15, 2014


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