Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Must Credit Unions Resemble Banks?

Your credit union offers financial (a.k.a. banking) services to people, right? Then why is it that the venue where those financial services occur resembles a typical, run of the mill, bank branch? What kind of a perception does that setting communicate to those who use your credit union?

Seriously, can the same functions occur without teller windows and a teller line? Does the building have to be called a “branch?”

If I recall correctly, the now defunct WAMU some time ago introduced a different design and layout for all of its “branches.” Tellers sat at small cube-like desks. The atmosphere was much more informal and comfortable. The change was widely heralded among WAMU’s diverse customer base.

In the mid-nineties, back when I was working for KeyCorp in Cleveland, Ohio, the bank introduced a campaign to redesign its branches into “financial centers.” Key undertook the initiative to appeal to small business entrepreneurs, offering them work stations, Internet access, and even in certain locations, an adjoining Starbucks kiosk. The move was intended to better acclimate customers to an atmosphere supportive of much more than teller transactions. Key’s Financial Centers were meant to be your office away from home.

While Key Bank may not have succeeded in following through with transforming all of its neighborhood locations to “your office away from home,” Starbucks, on the other hand, certainly has filled the void. Today, Starbucks is much more than a location to purchase coffee! Just look around next time you stop in for a latte. Now suppose a credit union were to support that same kind of environment?

With credit union locations all across America, how should we be re-designing and re-positioning our physical locations to be more than a venue meant to simply deposit money or withdraw cash?

Maybe we can start by making them look a lot less like “bank” branches? I don’t know about you but the last time I walked into a bank branch followed by my credit union, I didn’t see much physical difference outside of more smiling faces at the credit union.

Is it because financial activity dictates a certain look which we are obligated to use without question? Maybe it's so. You tell me.

All I know is that credit unions stand for so much more than banks. If that be true, then let’s start to find ways to creatively make our credit unions look more like “Owner-Centers,” clearly recognizable as being part of America’s co-op family.

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