Flexibility as Fact

Recently I was proud to be part of a panel for Filene Institute’s “So You Want to Talk About” webinar series. For this session, the “talk” was about the future of branches.

Moderated by Christie Kimbell, Filene’s Chief Product Officer, the panel included:

  • Nicole Alcorn, SVP/Chief Experience Office for Teachers Credit Union
  • Emilio Cooper, SVP Retail Banking for Bethpage Federal Credit Union
  • Mai Linh Hoang, VP Corp. Strategy & Marketing for Collins Community Credit Union

During the session, Christie guided the panel through a discussion of three key areas related the branches — both today and for the future. Her questions focused on the panelists’ respective experiences and insights regarding three key areas in the (hopefully) “Post-Covid” marketplace.

Question #1: What are the main current challenges related to member service and satisfaction?

Question #2: What internal changes are being made to recruit, retain and train employees?

Question #3: What innovations – either strategic, cultural or technological — are you pursuing?

My key takeaways from my co-panelists include:

  • The pandemic resulted in a major shift in the way members used – and didn’t use – branches. No surprise there. In just one year, digital and online usage leapfrogged at a level not anticipated until 2025 or beyond.
  • Many members – especially older folks – were easily frustrated by rapid transition to digital and “non-human” service. This frustration lead to major changes in staff training that was focused as much on listening and empathy as it was on technology advancements.
  • For staff, management had to quickly learn – and are continuing to learn – how to became a different type of employer in order to meet the desires of a workforce a greater emphasis on work-life balance.
  • The “tried and true” standards for how branches are secured, designed and function is being re-considered at every level. This is absolutely a work-in-progress transition. While interesting prototypes are certainly being developed, there is no current “best-in-class” standard for what the ideal branch-of-tomorrow is likely to be.

While each panelist offered excellent and diverse examples of changes their organization is embracing, I felt that this one shared by Mai-Linh of Collins Community Credit Union was extremely compelling.

On both the University of Iowa and Iowa State campuses, Collins is prototyping an initiative branded as the “The Collective.” For use by students and student organizations, “The Collective” is a free-of-charge, Wi-Fi ready space available from morning till night for use as quiet, comfortable study and gathering place.

Access for students requires a Collins CU membership as well as to the university. From a marketing standpoint, the organization has engaged “influencers” to help raise awareness for this on-campus resource that even regularly offers free pizza nights for students with a need for knowledge, garlic and provolone.

From my perspective, the benefits for students and Collins alike is obvious and the idea is inspired. With digital technology inside, this is a clearly an innovative branch-of-the-future concept targeting young members.

But “The Collective” was far from the only innovative idea. At the end, my takeaway was that each of these outstanding credit unions are deeply committed to innovation and flexibility. To optimizing their workplaces and their internal culture. And, most importantly, to finding new and better ways to, in the words of Bethpage’s Emilio Cooper, “meet our members where they are.”

For your convenience, here is a link to the session.

I also highly recommend that everyone mark their calendars for a follow-up Filene webinar on January 12, entitled “Headquarters and Hybrids: What’s Next?”

Corey A. Waite is the leading commercial real estate advisor to the credit union industry. As Founder and CEO of Rubicon Concierge Real Estate Services, Corey works directly with senior Credit Union leadership to deliver strategic plans and transactional services focused on headquarters and branch locations alike. With a clear understanding of the unique mission and challenges of the Credit Union industry, Rubicon’s expertise and service is truly unique and value-added. You can reach the Rubicon Team at +1 (213) 462-2810.

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