‘Digital First’ Not ‘Digital Only’

In the BAI Banking Outlook research on 2022 trends, financial services leaders reported that these are the top three ways accountholders utilize the branch network:

  1. open or close an account
  2. conduct a transaction
  3. resolve an account problem

Appointments – whether in person or by video – are ideally suited to reasons 1 and 3. Experience shows that more accounts can be opened on the first visit with appointments. Plus return visits for the same new account opening are minimized because the member has been told exactly what paperwork to bring to the appointment.

When it comes to resolving financial account problems, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation with an empathetic CU employee. Our CU partners are increasingly conducting these important meetings by video because Better Lobby Flexible Branches Video Meetings helps deliver a more personalized member experience from the member’s home, car, or office.

Key Takeaway: Going forward, successful CUs will be the ones that combine robust digital-first capabilities with top-notch support from branches and contact centers.  

Retaining the Human Touch in Digital Banking

In a recent article in Technology Record magazine, there was an interesting discussion on how digital-first banking approaches can often end up causing frustration for account holders. It states that “customers’ expectations are higher than ever when it comes to digital banking, but new data from Gartner has revealed that most still prefer to connect with humans via physical and assisted channels when it comes to banking, especially for high-value transactions.”

What steps can CUs take to adopt an omnichannel strategy to cater to members who prefer human assistance for complex transactions? Perhaps the most important step is to offer appointments both in the branch and via video. Video meetings – both by appointments and unscheduled video meetings – especially help bridge digital services with human support. Offering video helps demonstrate that your CU is attentive to your members’ desires for meaningful and engaging interactions and financial discussions. 

Key Takeaway: Better Lobby’s suite of omni-channel modules help to seamlessly incorporate digital and physical channels resulting in enhanced member satisfaction, as well as greater loyalty and retention.  

British CU Promises Not to Close Any Branches for Next 4 Years

Principality Building Society, a United Kingdom-based credit union that was formed in 1860, has pledged to maintain its branch presence in the towns and cities it operates in until 2025 at least. This comes in response to a widespread public outcry in the UK against bank branch closings. The institution stated that “feedback from members continues to reinforce that having access to cash and services is vitally important to them…”

Their decision was met with widespread positive publicity across the UK. One finance editor noted that “swathes of branch closures in recent times have dramatically reduced people’s ability to withdraw cash and left entire communities without someone to speak to face-to-face about financial matters, so it is encouraging to see a building society commit to protecting these essential services.”

Key Takeaway: Research by the Principality Building Society among its members found more than 70% said a branch presence was a key factor when deciding which financial provider to choose. These findings closely mirror many surveys in the US where “convenient branches” consistently ranks as one of the very top reasons when choosing an FI.

Omnichannel Commerce is Accelerating

A Fiserv Carat Insights report shows that commerce experiences that blend the physical and digital are increasingly popular among consumers. Omnichannel spending that encompasses a mix of online and in-store business models grew substantially year-over-year, with increases of omnichannel spend seen in verticals including restaurant (77%), grocery (71%), and retail (39%).

This consumer desire for omnichannel experiences is increasingly crossing over to CUs as well. Case in point: Many of our clients continue to adopt our Flexible Branches Video Meetings module to digitally serve members without the need for them to come into a branch.

Key Takeaway: The digital and physical channels, once separate, are coming together in many ways. Better Lobby manages visitor meetings in this entire “space.”

The New Normal in Banking is Omnichannel

Karl Dahlgren, BAI’s managing director of research, recently published an article where he stated: “if there’s one task that should be atop financial services organizations’ 2022 to-do list, it is to continue improving the omnichannel customer experience…” While many CUs are solely focused on enhancing their digital channels, a true omnichannel experience covers all member touchpoints: online, mobile, branch, ATM, video and call center.

Many of our recent and ongoing development projects have focused on helping CUs bridge the physical and digital worlds. A prime example is our Flexible Branches Video Meetings solution that extends our conventional Better Lobby Branch Service Queue from a physical branch to a virtual video lobby. These video visitors are served either by appointment or as unscheduled “walk-ins.”

Key Takeaway: Better Lobby helps CUs attract, engage and retain members by proving a best-in-class omnichannel experience.  

2021 Consumer Banking Report Reveals Continued Branch Importance

There are many striking findings in EPAM’s Consumer Banking Report 2021 that surveyed 4,500 consumers in 4 countries. They include:

  • Banking consumers in the U.S. specifically expect to visit their branch more than 40 times a year going forward
  • 40% of 18–24 year-olds used their physical branch at least monthly in the past year
  • Over one third are looking for a more personalized experience with their finances

With these results in mind, credit unions must strive to make each and every branch visit both productive and efficient for their members in 2022. Appointments can help by maximizing staff productivity, while providing a more streamlined and convenient branch service experience to both new and existing members. They also help address the personalization component mentioned above – appointments ensure that employees are well prepared for every visitor.

Key Takeaway: Your members still want face-to-face interactions even as they ramp up their use of your digital channels. Appointments will be table stakes in 2022 for CUs as branches continue to be in demand by members of all ages.

OnPoint Community CU Doubles Down on Branches

OnPoint Community Credit Union is keenly aware of the importance of providing members and their community the option of in-person financial services.

Cory Freeman, VP and Regional Manager at the Portland, OR-based CU, explains their motivations: the issue of branch access goes beyond ease of making deposits or withdrawals – it’s also about building strong communities. Meeting with our members in person allows us to connect with them on a deeper level and fully understand their current challenges, help them set goals, and create a plan that will ultimately help them accomplish those goals.”

Key Takeaway: The World Economic Forum research shows greater access to financial services makes a difference in a person’s overall well-being and CU branches are ideally suited to deliver this access.

BECU members onboard with branches

BECU, founded in 1935 by 18 Boeing employees, is one of many CUs across the country that has seen an advantage in opening branches; in fact, the Washington-based CU has built 16 new branches since 2016. Why does a CU with a high-tech membership base that heavily uses the CU’s digital channels insist on adding branches? Simply put: their members want them. BECU says that one popular member request coming through the CU’s Net Promoter Score is that they want more branches.

Key Takeaway: Even if your members love digital banking, branches still fulfill a huge demand for personal service and face to face contact.


A recent Financial Brand article posed 2 important questions for CUs:

1) How can digital technologies enhance person to person interactions?

2) How can digital technologies be better utilized when branch interactions are not convenient?

Our Product Development team has given a great deal of thought to these questions and subsequently directly addressed them with our solutions. Our Kiosk module helps with question 1 by allowing your branch visitors to easily check-in and then engage in other branch-provided activities with the confidence that branch staff knows of their arrival and that they will be served by your employees in the appropriate order.

To address question 2, we developed our Flexible Branches Video Module. This affordable module extends the conventional Better Lobby Branch Service Queue beyond the physical branch so that video visitors waiting in the virtual lobby can be seen and served by expert staff at any Better Lobby equipped location – plus employees can work from home if needed.

Key Takeaway: All of your channels need to work together in a single process that meets member needs in a manner most convenient to them.

Personalized services VERSUS personal interactions

The findings of a big new study by EPAM Systems states that FIs are overconcerned with providing personalized services – when in reality people actually want personal interactions. The report concludes that “interacting in a real-time way with another human being — that’s a service that consumers indicate they are interested in.”

Their survey results back up these conclusions:

•           American banking consumers expect to visit their branch more than 40 times a year going forward.

•           30% of Gen Z respondents said access to a physical branch had become more important to them in the past year, especially as Covid-19 forced branches to close temporarily.

Key Takeaway: Digital services play a very important role in the modern banking landscape, but they may not be as effective as CUs think for genuinely taking care of member needs. In fact, many members are looking to their local branch as a place for more personal interactions regarding their finances.

Video banking done well

Many surveys have found that speaking directly with a member of staff is the most efficient way of resolving consumers’ issues. If an interaction can’t be face to face, then video comes in a strong second as a way to help create a better connection between people.

By investing in video banking technology like our Flexible Branches Video Meetings module, CUs are able to offer a mix of walk-in and remote video appointments. Expert staff can work from your HQ – or from their home – to help members at any of your video-equipped branches. Of course, members could also join the video queue from their home, office or anywhere from their mobile device.

Key Takeaway: Video done well via virtual walk-ups or by appointments delivers greater choice of channels, more convenient service, and while easing pressure on call centers.

Solarity CU Embraces an Omnichannel Strategy

Solarity Credit Union has transitioned its six traditional branches into teller-less consultative facilities featuring smart ATMs and video conferencing. The Yakima, WA-based credit union also uses remote video to serve members. Mina Worthington, President and CEO of Solarity, observes that “people would much rather meet with you via video than get in their car and have to drive to you and find parking, especially in metro areas.”

Even with a deep commitment to digital banking, Solarity Credit Union remains a firm believer in branches. “Consumers want everything,” says Worthington. “They want the ‘Amazon experience’ online; they want you to have physical facilities as well….”

Key Takeaway: This strategy of blending the digital with the physical is sometimes called “omnichannel.” Here at Better Branches Technology, we are at the forefront of providing leading edge software that supports credit union omnichannel visitor management strategies.

Increasing credit union relevancy

In a recent Financial Brand article Andre Iervolino, former CTO at Rev Credit Union, laid out 10 key change factors CUs must understand, plan for, invest in, and — in particular — execute on in order to not only remain relevant in banking’s future, but increase their relevancy.

One of his 10 items was: Employees will be trained to identify member needs by life stage and will be empowered by tablet banking and personalized appointment scheduling platforms to be able to carry on comfortable interactions and conversations as they and the member walk around the open space at the branch and connect emotionally.

Key Takeaway: Mr. Iervolino, who has over 20 years of credit union experience, makes some valid and interesting observations in his article (see article here). We directly address the two items mentioned above with our Kiosk and Appointment solutions. Plus we also offer other modules (video banking, online queueing, etc.) that greatly assist credit unions in their quest to increase relevancy in a world where consumers have a plethora of options for managing their finances.

Taking a Consultative Approach

In a recent Banking Exchange article, this question was posed: Can education and consultations really keep traditional FIs competitive? The author states that the answer is a definitive Yes.

He points to Best Buy as a real-world example. In a successful effort to differentiate themselves from Amazon and other pure online retailers, the electronics vendor introduced an advisor program in 2016 for free in-home consultations. This decision ultimately helped Best Buy built trust and loyalty that continues to help keep the company healthy today.

Key Takeaway: As branch transactions continue to decline, the need for personalized advice and consultation continues to grow. Whether in-branch (via appointments or walk-in) or by Video (appointment or unscheduled), Better Lobby Solution makes it easy for CUs to hold productive and consultative member visits in whatever channel the member desires.

Video banking is becoming mainstream

AT&T introduced the Picturephone way back in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, but video calling would not move into the mainstream until Skype came out in 2003. Video banking has also been around for many years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that it became much more commonplace for Americans who suddenly became Zoom knowledgeable.

Video banking opens up many possibilities for credit unions to:

  • Deliver better member service
  • Extend operating hours
  • Shorten wait times
  • Make more specialized skills remotely available

Key Takeaway: Many members still value face to face contact and video banking steps up to add the convenience of digital face to face meetings that members need.

Branch Formats Evolve

Branches remain the dominant channel for opening new accounts or applying for loans, according to research from Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte. Plus as a first human point of contact, the branch carries a tremendous amount of weight in trust, reputation and brand building, their report states.

Branches continue to transition away from transactions and focus on advice, guidance, problem resolution and good old fashioned face-to-face service delivered by knowledgeable staff. Many credit unions are finding that the best way to provide access to their banking experts is by appointment scheduling.

Key Takeaway: Branch formats continue to evolve for many CUs, and more often than not this evolution centers around offering convenient appointments to busy members.

Video’s Impact on Member Satisfaction

In a recent PYMTS article, the research firm notes that 97 percent of FIs that offer video banking said their net promoter score (NPS) — a metric used to gauge customer satisfaction — was as good or better than their other channels, and 90 percent of video banking users said they would be willing to use video banking again. Why do so many people like video interactions? One reason is that they are comfortable with video meetings from the pandemic, but perhaps a bigger reason is that they like the level of personalization that video offers.

The article goes on to state that a notable 97 percent of consumers said that high-quality customer service was somewhat or very important, meaning it ranked higher than low fees, fraud protection and mobile access. Video goes a long way in meeting consumer desires for personal service, especially when branches are closed.

Key Takeaway: Our Flexible Branches Video Meetings module enables personalized and expert service at a distance while equipping your CU to handle both unscheduled video visitors and video appointments.

Digital-First Branch Remodeling

Digital banking practices and credit union branches are 100% complementary. Without a doubt, branches are enviable assets to online-only neobanks.

However, one big question for CUs is how to integrate digital technologies into their lobbies. In a recent article in Banking Dive, an EVP at Mastercard offered these 5 suggestions:

  1. touch-screen interfaces
  2. staff as tech-enabled concierges
  3. video conferencing
  4. facial recognition upon arrival
  5. immersive virtual reality workshops

Our Kiosk module can help with options 1 and 2, while our Flexible Branches Video Meetings module has you covered for option 3.

Key Takeaway: When remodeling your branches, you need to carefully consider how to make them more “digital friendly” and we are here to help.

Redefine the Branch Experience

Research continues to show that most Americans still prefer branches for more complex financial needs and advice. The consensus among industry observers is that branches must quickly transition away from transactions to become centers of advice and sales.

In order to make this transition, your branch staff will need the latest technology and tools that will empower them to better engage with members. One tool that helps deliver higher levels of service is texting. Americans of all ages enjoy and use texting on a daily basis for quick communication. We have developed texting tools that your members will appreciate, e.g., Text Me When I am Soon to be Served; Parking Lot Check-in via text; and Notify Now that permits your staff to text waiting visitors that it is their turn for service.

Key Takeaway: Redefining the branch experience demands innovative software. This is our reason for being: providing innovative, affordable software solutions that help CUs deliver the highest standard of service.

Delivering Relationships

Well known financial consultant Dave Martin recently noted in one of his articles that “as banking increases self-service technology, our face-to-face interactions may become less frequent. Each one, however, becomes more important, not less.”

One excellent way to ensure that each face-to-face interaction is meaningful is to allow your members to schedule appointments – either in-person or via video. Appointments ensure that your staff is properly prepared for the meeting in advance. Plus notifications – either email or text or both – remind your members to bring the necessary paperwork to the meeting which helps ensure that the meeting is successful on the very first visit.

Key Takeaway: Appointments can play a key role in helping in boosting member satisfaction levels.

CU Branches Increase in First Quarter – 2021

According to a recent Credit Union Times article, credit unions across America are expanding their branch networks, not closing them as some would have you believe. Case in point: credit unions had 21,550 locations in U.S. states and territories on March 31, 35 more than they had Dec. 31. CU Times went on to state that “the list of new and refurbished credit union branches opened or in progress of opening soon is really at a potential record-level of activity right now.”

Pre-pandemic or post-pandemic seems to make no difference to members from all walks of life – all demographics have the desire to interact with your staff in-person.

Key Takeaway: Credit unions might be reducing their branch square footage and converting branches to technological hubs, but the “branch is dead” pundits are dead wrong.