Credit unions are looking for ways to increase their membership while retaining current members. They are carefully reviewing all delivery channels available to them, whether it is the Internet, ATMs, Voice Response Units, existing branch facilities or the possibility of opening new locations. In order to accomplish these objectives, credit unions find themselves in a unique position of strength with their core competencies of services, trusted relationships and community focus. Many also decide that a combination of delivery channels is the best route. This need to offer all delivery channels is a different concept for credit unions. During much of the late 1990s, it seemed that hope for the future of community and commercial financial institutions alike rested on the lofty promises of online banking. According to the industry, the Internet was going to revolutionize the way people conducted business with their financial institution. It was touted as being able to provide service at a lower cost while maintaining the high levels of member access. All other options were to pale in comparison, and for a brief time, the old standby delivery channels looked like they might become obsolete. To date, although still very significant, the rise of the Internet and other technologies has not rendered all other delivery channels obsolete, especially branch banking. Instead, they have caused a fundamental shift in the way credit unions conduct their business and how they serve members. Industry research has indicated that offering consumers additional channels, such as more branch facilities and Internet access to conduct business, has simply raised the amount of transaction activity across all available channels. Further, credit unions now use the less costly delivery channels to handle routine transactions. As credit unions explore their delivery channel options, it appears that in-store branching and storefront locations are quickly becoming the delivery choice for many credit unions because branches can be designed and built for a mere fraction of the cost that it would take to build the traditional brick and mortar branch and offer access to a larger number of potential new members than a standalone office. In-store branches are located within a supermarket or supercenter store. Storefront branches are located within one of the retail spaces within the shopping center. Credit unions establishing branches in supermarkets have an excellent opportunity to increase their loan portfolio and deposits while increasing their membership base. With an appropriate growth strategy and a solid commitment to supporting the unique needs of an in-store branch, credit unions can expect to break even in 12 to 18 months of opening. Between 15,000 and 25,000 customers shop at supermarkets weekly, and in a supercenter, like a Wal-Mart store, the weekly customer count may exceed 50,000. These shoppers are your potential new members and should therefore be foremost to your strategic plan. From the retailer’s point of view, the value-added service of having an in-store branch increases their store traffic and encourages customer loyalty. Thus, the customer traffic benefits both the credit union and the retailer. Storefront locations offer an opportunity to open a branch without the costs of constructing a stand-alone building and are an option when an in-store branch might not be available within that shopping center. The trend in in-store branch design is one toward ensuring that members can access their account information in a variety of ways-via the teller line, through an 800-information phone located within the branch facility, through the Internet, and through the ATM. The “typical” in-store branch design is moving from what used to be a standard of three teller stations, a new accounts desk and an office to two teller stations, a new accounts desk, an office and an Internet station. Additionally, accent walls and retail lighting fixtures such as you might see at a StarbucksT store are frequently-requested design features within in-store and storefront branches. Concern for the future also plays a role in branch design. Many financial institutions are incorporating modular components including furniture, fixtures and wall systems into the facility so that as their member service needs change (or the store remodels), the branch can be reconfigured easily and at a substantially lower cost than a “traditionally” constructed branch. Apart from the facility itself, a credit union opening in-store needs to consider that the approach to operating in-store is unique and requires changes in “traditional” mindsets. For instance, in-store branches are typically open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. on Saturday, and many are even open on Sundays. An employee who is accustomed to working at the main office may find it difficult to transition into an unconventional branch work schedule and be responsible for performing all aspects of branch activity; however, others may appreciate the flexibility and change in pace. At the supermarket or storefront branch, each team member works a teller window, opens new accounts and sells products and services to new and existing members. At the main office, sales and service efforts are typically split between tellers and member service representatives. Associates at the in-store branch must be willing to learn new techniques for selling and serving members to succeed. Here are some key activities that will help your credit union be successful in this new endeavor. First, hire individuals who have had previous retail experience and are accustomed to selling and working retail hours. It is much easier to learn credit union operations than to learn to be sales-oriented. Second, minimize the daily operational functions so that the individuals can concentrate on selling, not balancing the cash drawers and other operational requirements. Results have shown that some in-store branches are only balancing once or twice a week with no negative impact. Third, install a full-service ATM that accepts deposits and bill payments and encourage members to use the ATM. Also, have a special area designated to demonstrate how to use the Internet for transactions. A telephone that rings directly to your customer service line can provide additional assistance for question answering. Being able to take advantage of available technology will give members choices about how they want to transact business. Fourth, work together with the retailer on a joint marketing strategy. And lastly, train your in-store staff. This is the single-most important element to ensure success. A motivated and educated sales force will be successful. These two factors alone will generate enough synergy and excitement with the branch staff to sell the credit union’s products to existing members while enlisting new members. Following these five steps will make the difference in how quickly the in-store branch will achieve its goals and become successful.

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