Want a Return on Your IT Investment? Look to the Branch

By Meredith Deen09.19.2016

In planning your 2017 budget for technology development, don’t overlook the branch. Even as members have embraced mobile and online access, many still value their neighborhood or workplace branch as a go-to channel when they need guidance with more complex transactions and financial decisions.

Investing in new design can grab attention and invite prospective and current members alike to venture into the branch, but upgrades in automation—from self-directed technology to workforce optimization systems—provide the power to transform the service experience. Routine transactions are streamlined, freeing up frontline employees to engage in higher-quality conversations that lead to increased sales and forge stronger relationships.

Enhancing digital delivery through your branches and making the most of systems running behind the scenes not only improves service through your highest-profile channel, but offers a prominent showcase for your full range of products and services and steps up operational efficiency.

   “Real Power in Going to Branches”

The branch transformation underway at Community First Credit Union of Florida combines design and technology upgrades for its 18 branches. And from a staffing perspective, they will be retraining tellers and member service representatives as universal agents—equipped and empowered to handle all sales and service encounters.

Community First’s two newest facilities feature more open designs, replacing the traditional “bandit barrier” with teller pods and cash recyclers for an atmosphere that is “less transactional and more interactional,” says Jimmy Lovelace, vice president of branches for the $1.3-billion credit union with 302 employees serving 112,000 members. The new branches also feature video conferencing centers equipped with scanners, digital finger pads, and other technology so members can consult on demand remotely with mortgage and business loan officers and, in the future, investment advisors.

In addition to these design innovations, Community First relies on staff scheduling and transaction tracking software to monitor teller assist time, transition time, idle time, and project staffing needs based on those metrics “to make sure we have the right people in the right places at the right times,” Lovelace says. “As we move to more of a retail model, we may see shifts from ten to two and someone coming in just for two hours a day so we can be more responsive to member preferences. We could have a branch staffed with one teller, one MSR, and a universal associate who splits her/his day with another location.”

In its first five months, Community First’s new Riverside branch built a deposit base of $1 million, serving almost 200 members. Branches in high-visibility locations offer a “billboard effect” to help build the brand, especially among prospective members who choose their financial providers based on brick-and-mortar proximity—even if they never enter the branch.

“We have to help our members understand that the real power in going to branches is the face-to-face interactions,” he adds. “That’s the journey we’re on at Community First, looking for ways to leverage the technology so we augment the personal experience without replacing it.”

Bragging Rights on Customer Service

As Community First’s experience demonstrates, self-directed technology like kiosks, video tellers, and conferencing centers facilitate quick service on routine transactions, provide easy access for members seeking guidance from a wide range of financial professionals, and redeploy branch staff to handle other sales and service interactions.

In the universal agent staffing model, sales and service professionals are expected to spend more time interacting with members identifying their needs for products and services and opening new accounts. Lobby tracking software can help identify the parameters of these new service encounters so that adequate staffing can be scheduled to handle branch traffic demands and optimize member interactions.

Showcasing 21st-Century Service Know-How

No matter how much consumers prize mobile and online banking, they don’t choose their primary financial institution by browsing the app store. A well-staffed and technologically adept branch trains the spotlight on everything your credit union can do for the people you serve.

Beyond the brand-building impact of branches in high-visibility locations, investing in a high-tech facelift positions your institution as a people-first, tech-savvy financial partner. And when knowledgeable and readily-available branch professionals answer questions about mobile and online services in-person, it underscores the broad range of delivery channels available—and redirects traffic for routine transactions to those channels that are more convenient for members and lower cost for your institution.

An appointment scheduling application is another high-profile example of innovation that aligns with a reputation for cutting-edge service delivery, and simultaneously addresses the fact that many members desire to talk person-to-person, but don’t want to sit around in the lobby waiting for the opportunity to do so. Offering the option to schedule appointments acknowledges the value of busy members’ time, provides yet another relationship-building channel, and delivers a new source of useful business data. Your credit union can now track trends on which products and services members are scheduling appointments to discuss and when and where those appointments are scheduled—all useful information in managing staff deployment and branch hours and in pinpointing the demand for services.

Stepping up Efficiency

Staff scheduling and lobby tracking software can help reduce costs and improve service. For example, by deploying this type of system in two branches as part of a phased rollout, Pen Air Federal Credit Union trimmed 6.5 staff positions for an annualized savings of $150,000, all through attrition.

“As openings come up, we have the data now to assess whether to fill those positions. We can look at every open position to determine if it will be filled or replaced with a part-time position,” says Angie Betts, senior vice president/member experience of the $1.3-billion Pensacola, Florida, credit union serving 100,000 members. “Our goal is to manage staffing more efficiently, and this data provides a powerful tool to do that.”

Other technology upgrades, such as installing cash recyclers and video tellers, also improve efficiency. Cash recyclers reduce the time branch staff spend counting cash, reduce errors, speed up service, and can even decrease payroll costs because employees don’t need to come in early to open cash drawers and stay late to balance and close them. Video-assisted teller machines reduce staffing requirements without diminishing members’ perceptions of convenient, personal service.

In short, efficiency, service quality, and sales are all likely returns on investing in branch technology. As Lovelace notes, Community First’s move toward the universal agents staffing model and new branch technology “provides added flexibility in the size of the branches we can build and the types of communities we can serve. We can do more in a branch with fewer staff so we can leverage where we go with our branches more strategically.”

Meredith Deen is president of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI), which provides financial institutions with business intelligence and performance management systems for efficient branch staff scheduling and lobby management. She can be reached at meredithd@fmsi.com.

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