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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The roped off “cattle” queues and traditional teller lines have been eclipsed by Internet Cafs, conversation areas, and greeters as credit unions take a page from retailers. Yes the environment is warmer, more inviting and often state-of-the-art but is it worth the investment years later? “Let me put it this way, we built a freestanding retail branch designed by NewGround in 1999 and we were operating in the black in less than two years,” said Richardson, Texas-based Texans CU Senior Vice President Dean Borland. “That branch today has $43 million in deposits, $21 million in loans, checking penetration of members over the age of 21 is 71%, 41% of members are enrolled in home banking and it is averaging about 60 or so new member relationships a month.” While the prototype branch has proved successful, Borland says the $1.2 billion credit union has incorporated the best retail elements of the branch into a series of storefront branches rather than building more stand-alone retail facilities. Borland considers it retail branches on a smaller scale. “We may not have as much visibility as a standalone on a pad on the street but we’re creating a small footprint into several communities, and member survey findings indicate that our biggest PFI competitor is Bank of America not community banks or even two other big local credit unions,” said Borland. “We’ve been pleased with the productivity we got out of these branches and in every case it has exceeded our expectations. Economically it is also a boost because we can build six storefront branches for the price of that one facility and they can be turned around and open for business in four to six months.” At Endicott, New York-based Visions Federal Credit Union, retail branches are the norm. According to Visions FCU President/CEO Frank Berrish, of the $1.3 billion credit union’s total 18 branches 12 are structured based on the retail theme. “What prompted the move to retail is that we wanted to differentiate ourselves from banks. So when DEI suggested a move to retail we jumped onboard to be a leader in our area,” said Berrish. “We have since been adding some 5,000 to 7,000 members a year and our penetration runs about 2.7 services per member compared to the average which is 1.5 services per member. We’ve found that the more services members have with us the more committed they are to the organization and we credit our growth and success to the retail environment. The look of the branches catches people’s attention and our service helps members have what we call the `Wow effect’, which they can’t experience anywhere else.” Berrish cautions other credit unions considering retail facilities of their own to be sure to make their board comfortable with the change in the organization. “For some CEOs, a lot of creativity can get killed in a board room if the board cannot envision how or why to be retail oriented,” said Berrish. “Some may still be associating retail with the negative stereotype of high sales and high pressure tactics rather than as a way of helping members better identify their choices and alternatives.” Borland adds that credit unions should also be sure the staff is prepared for the shift to a sales culture. “The misnomer is that you go out change the way a facility looks or buy a computer software package, place some ads in the newspaper and the branch will be an automatic success,” said Borland. “The reality is that without the human infrastructure it won’t happen. People are what make the retail branch work because what members want from us is to have a meaningful conversation with experts who are there to really help them find their best solution. That connection or trust is what will keep that member from going somewhere else. It is a hard art that takes continuous leadership and sales training.” [email protected]

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