The Evolution Of Branching

BECU’s VP of Member Solutions discusses why there will always be a place for the branch.


BECU ($11.5B, Tukwila, WA) is poised to evolve its branch network. When rolling out its branches, it chose to go cashless in all but two. Instead of using valuable human resources to conduct routine transactions that members can complete on their own, the community credit union focuses its branch network on handling more complex transactions and building relationships.

In this Q&A with Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, BECU’s vice president of member solutions, talks about the credit union’s plan to further evolve its network and what it sees as the future role for branches.

How do you see the role of branches changing?

Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn: There has been a lot of conversation regarding the role of the branch. Is it dead? What’s the right branch model? I think the branch role is still evolving. There will always be a place for the branch in the delivery process of any financial institution; the branch is a delivery channel that is not going away. How a financial institution delivers the branch experience and the role of the branch in a multi-delivery channel strategy will continue to develop.

I see branches becoming smaller and more nimble. As we move forward, branches are more likely to have a smaller footprint with fewer employees and more self-serve — such as ATMs — and assisted self-serve — such as personal teller machines — options. 

How is BECU changing its branches to prepare?

SWS: BECU is already positioned a bit differently than most financial institutions. Originally, we rolled out the majority of our branches without  traditional teller service. We have 40-plus branches and all but two use the ATM to deliver cash. This gives us flexibility in our model and the ability to return more savings back to the membership in terms of lower fees and better rates. Additionally, this model reduces branch FTEs while optimizing their focus on sales and service. Handling cash is expensive and adds operational complexity. That’s why I believe many organizations are gravitating toward personal teller machines.  

In the relatively near future, BECU is opening a branch that will showcase technology and help members learn how to access BECU remotely. The main difference between this new model and our existing one is we’re increasing the number and types of technological devices to provide live demonstrations and hip-to-hip support. For example, after we’ve opened a new account we can walk the member to an area with a choice of mobile devices. This will allow them to select the type of device, or devices, they use and see exactly how they will access their accounts using a Windows tablet, iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.

With more members banking from desktops, tablets, and mobile devices, this approach should help alleviate technical issues that can arise when members access their new accounts on a device different from what they saw in the branch. Each device has certain nuances, and introducing members to our remote services on their preferred technology should help prevent any disconnect. And learning about [the device] before leaving the branch will help our members feel more comfortable about accessing their funds through a digital channel

Are there different personality traits or skills you think branch staff needs to be successful in the new model?

SWS: Many of the existing skills we look for apply to the new model as well. To deliver exceptional service, branch employees still need to be problem solvers and have good listening skills, a genuine desire to help others, and a natural sales ability.

In addition to having employees help members with their technology or account access needs, we are also focusing on specialization within the branches. Today our staff members are largely generalists, but we are infusing specialized knowledge of more complex types of products like wealth management, mortgages, and business services. This will provide a better overall experience for our members by allowing them to immediately speak with an expert on-site versus making an appointment for a later date or time. 

As branches shift from transaction centers to sales centers, do you think shared branching will continue to be as important?

SWS: There will always be a role for shared branching, just like there will always be a role for other face-to-face delivery channels. For me, the beauty of shared branching is it allows credit unions to compete with larger financial institutions and diminishes the perception that we’re not convenient or only local. Whether a member uses a shared branch location or not, the network provides all credit unions with the ability to communicate touch points across the nation. Members want to know that if something goes wrong, they can walk into a branch. Shared branching helps level that playing field in terms of convenience and access for all credit unions. However, just as individual credit union branches are changing, I think shared branching will continue to evolve.

How does BECU measure branch performance?

SWS: Before I share our key metrics, my caveat is that each credit union has to determine the core responsibilities of its own branch network. At BECU, we push routine transactions online as much as possible through remote or self-serve options. Our branches, therefore, are responsible for complex situations, i.e. fraud; opening new memberships; helping members understand their financial health; and increasing our share of wallet. All of our performance measurements tie back into those branch responsibilities. Branches serve as the primary acquisition arm for BECU; 85% of all new member acquisitions come through our branch network. Branches are also charged with engaging members and deepening relationships, so cross-sales are another metric we keep a close eye on.

We have a dashboard available on the intranet that is updated daily and allows everyone to view their performance versus goals and understand how they are contributing to the cooperative. These metrics include everything from where you are on your consumer loan origination goal to the latest service metrics including the Net Promoter Score. All of these individual metrics roll up to the branch and district level all the way up through the organization-wide goals we’ve established in our strategic plan. 

The dashboard helps motivate staff, but we also use it to educate. If we see someone is struggling in meeting their Visa goal month after month, their manager can pair that individual with one of our high-performers. This allows employees to share tips and cross-pollinate so everyone is more successful across the branch network.  

Any thoughts on the role of the call center or final thoughts on branching?

SWS: The call center is not within my responsibility, but I believe there will be additional opportunities to make the call center more of a sales and acquisition channel. That’s a work in progress as the structure is mostly service-oriented today. I think the call center will change just as everything else is changing.

When thinking of the branch of the future, questions that are intriguing to me are: As society evolves, what are consumers going to expect from a financial institution? How will consumers want to interact with a financial institution in the future? How do credit unions stay relevant for members while making a shift from traditional branches to a new branch model and digital channels?