NITRO, W. Va. - In a first for this area, Peoples Federal Credit Union is taking its branch on the road to reach out to residents. "We rolled out with the mobile branch this past winter and people just stared at first," said Peoples FCU Vice President of IT/Marketing Jeff Snider. "Then when they are invited inside and they can see all that it can do they are just blown away and amazed. This branch on wheels is a unique opportunity for us to go directly to where our members need us." From outlying communities to retirement homes, Snider says the concept was simply to provide the credit union's full range of services to the underserved population here by making its branch access the ultimate in convenience. Teaming up with networking solutions providers Advanced Technical Solutions and Cisco Systems Inc., the branch, which is housed in a large recreational vehicle, is a fully functioning wireless branch on wheels. It has full communications system capabilities including voice, video and data convergence with all the monetary and informational security of a brick and mortar branch. It can offer services including account management, ATM kiosk and full phone support for member calls from any location. The system can even monitor the mobile branch from Peoples FCU headquarters via a live video feed. "For the most part except for safe deposits, anything our members can do in our brick and mortar branches from opening accounts and loans to printing starter checks they can do in this mobile branch," said Snider. According to Cisco Systems Inc. Industry Marketing Manager for Cisco Financial Services Vertical Rune Olslund, the facility's call converged network application is a first for a mobile branch. "I like to say with this network telephone system, video and security system and data network are all in the same box so you don't have to rely on a central call management for routing," said Olslund. "We're so excited about the potential of this not just in terms of reaching underbranched communities but it is also the perfect disaster recovery solution." The network is compatible with other data and phone systems and Cisco is slowly transitioning it to a 100% pure Internet Protocol system to help credit unions protect their existing investment. To ensure data and voice traffic transmitted is secure, Cisco PIX 500 Series firewalls are housed at the credit union's corporate office and satellite Network Operations Center with IP Security virtual private network encryption. Olslund says an overall secure network design delivers layered, comprehensive protection to the credit union and its members. It took almost a year to get the RV outfitted from a technology and design standpoint. "It's tough being a pioneer but it is worth it. We had the time to use some of Cisco's cutting edge technology to make sure our branch runs on a satellite feed,' said Snider. "In this mountainous state, cell signals may not work everywhere but we've got great access to the sky so the satellite system is working well for us." The mobile facility features an ATM, two teller windows, a member service office and loan office. Built for safety, in addition to extra plating, it includes full security system motion detectors and cameras and bullet resistant windows. Snider says it is "as secure as our main office. We have cameras at every angle that record everything." When it is not roving about town, the mobile branch calls a spot on the Peoples FCU headquarters back lot home. Snider says despite rising gas prices, the unit is basically low maintenance with the majority of the costs in electricity and diesel fuel particularly when the branch is at weekend fairs where the generator will run for three days. "There are a lot of people that may not have access to their credit union so we go to them and it helps raise awareness that yes credit unions can be very convenient," said Snider. "It also helps us test markets and reach communities we couldn't previously reach because our brick and mortar branch was out of their way." Snider says the possibilities are endless, particularly when it comes to reaching out to younger members and delivering financial literacy lessons right at the schools. Plans are underway to take the mobile branch out to schools as part of a program to teach younger kids about money and banking. "We've also been approached by FEMA for use not as a financial institution but for the telephones and computer that offers full Internet access," said Snider. "We'd also like to offer it to credit unions as a disaster recovery site. They would just need an online connection and they could be up and running again within four hours of a disaster." -firstname.lastname@example.org
Peoples Federal CU New Mobile Branch on Cutting Edge of Technology
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