Southeastern Credit Unions Growing
When a credit union opens a new branch, it's lucky to make the business briefs sections of local news sites, newspapers and magazines.
But when the $1.7 billion Truliant Federal Credit Union announced the opening of 10 new branches and more than 120 new jobs in Charlotte, N.C., the news captured headlines in just about every major publication in the Queen City. In addition to opening 10 branches throughout the Charlotte metro area, like the one pictured above, Truliant also opened two branches in Burlington and Winston-Salem last year.
What's more, while there have been approximately two dozen cooperatives that have publicly announced the opening of single branches in the first quarter, other credit unions, like Truliant, have also recently trumpeted their plans to open multiple branches in 2015 and beyond.
For example, the $2.6 billion Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, Va., which opened a second full-service branch in Herndon in March, also plans to premiere a new express branch and mini branch later this year that the cooperative said will be their new branch model for growth.
And, the $1.1 billion Sharonview Federal Credit Union in Fort Mill, S.C. plans to open a new branch in suburban Charlotte this year and an additional four locations from 2016 to 2018.
Truliant began planning its branch expansion two years ago after conducting a boatload of research that indicated the Charlotte metro area was the place for new growth. The cooperative has already opened four locations, and will open four more this year and two more branches in 2016.
“I know the expansion looks aggressive, but the $11 million in capital investment for a $2 billion credit union is not that much,” Truliant President/CEO Marcus Schaefer said. “The bigger investment, frankly, is in the people.”
What also drove the credit union's decision to expand in Charlotte was the metro area's growing population. From 2010 to 2013, Charlotte saw its population swell by more than 61,000 or 8.4%.
“The growth is here and its economy is being driven by companies and jobs,” Schaefer said.
A brand survey report also revealed an opportunity for Truliant to gain new members and market share. The report showed 44% of Charlotte residents are customers of Wells Fargo, but a “very high percentage” of them indicated they would join a credit union, according to Schaefer.
“There is still an atmosphere where people are wary of the banking industry and they are worried about being sold products they don't need,” he said, noting that Charlotte was hit hard by the financial crisis and its subsequent Great Recession. “We knew we were playing into a market that is receptive to credit unions that can meet their needs and part of meeting those needs is having locations they can go to.”
Truliant's new locations – about 2,200 square feet each – are about half the size of the four traditional branches the credit union has operated in Charlotte for years. The new branches feature an open design with teller pods instead of traditional teller counters, smart ATMs, Wi-Fi access and other amenities.
The new branches look more like Starbucks stores than officious cold branches, he explained.
“To really meet our mission of improving members’ lives, we need to have more availability to engage with our members in the Charlotte market,” Schaefer said. “We certainly understand the dynamics of the digitally inclined members. Nonetheless, our engagement model with members often requires an ability to sit down with them and have a conversation of making choices relative to what they are going to do financially.”
Schaefer said consumers, including millennials, still want branches and the latest research backs his assertion.
According to the Federal Reserve's new report, “Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015,” which was released in March, 87% of consumers who have a bank or credit union account said they visited a branch and spoke with a teller in the 12 months prior to the survey. Even among mobile banking users, 85% of them said they visited their bank or credit union and spoke to a teller in the past 12 months.
Before he became the president/CEO of Sharonview FCU, Bill Partin said the board of directors thought they would eventually be compelled to go all digital and dismantle its 16-branch network.
“In doing the research, we have Gen X and Gen Y folks who still want to walk into the branch and be helped, and 70-plus percent of our new accounts are opened in our branches,” Partin explained. “We don't see that number going away. But we want to move our branch network from transaction to interactions. We want take the day-to-day teller type of work and move that on to the ecommerce, ATM, mobile app and online platforms, and use our call center and branches for those great interactions to help our members reach their financial goals.”
But there's another compelling reason for Sharonview FCU to expand in Charlotte – 600 of its 700 SEG groups are located in that city. Plus, the cooperative's research also showed there are 56,000 businesses located throughout the Charlotte metro market, providing Sharonview with plentiful opportunities to attract even more SEGs into its membership.
Although Northwest FCU opened a second full-service branch in its home base city of Herndon, the credit union is introducing two additional new branch designs.
Later this year, the cooperative will open an “express branch” and a “micro branch,” and it plans to open more of them in the coming years. The branches are now under renovation at U.S. government locations. The cooperative serves CIA employees, retirees and their families.
Kevin Walrath, senior vice president of channels, sales and marketing for Northwest FCU, said the express branch format will be 1,000 to 1,500 square feet and house smart ATMs and an in-lobby teller or video concierge service that would be staffed by an employee during certain hours of the day. The 24/7 micro branch would be about 300 to 500 square feet and house only smart ATMs and ILTs.
“We’ve come to the realization that we want to provide additional physical locations [because] the landscape has changed and we had to have a different [branch] model,” Walrath said.