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May 20, 2014

Blue, Navy Blue

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by Ron Daly

I saw a story on today's CU Watercooler titled "World's Largest Credit Union is Getting Bigger". It would seem that Navy Federal, the biggest dog in the credit union pack, is expanding its reach by another 60 branches nationwide.

From the article:

To keep up with growing membership, which has risen 25 percent since 2012, the credit union is opening 60 new branches across the country by 2016.

And: 

This month, the credit union opened its first “technology concept branch” in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, marking its 32nd area location.

Yowza. That's a lot of branches, especially when you consider that many banks (and some CU's) are closing branches by the dozen. I did a quick Google search for how many CU's had closed in Q1 of 2014 but didn't find much info. Banks closed 281 branches in Q1, roughing out to about three branches closed every day for three months.

Navy FCU is growing while other institutions are receding. They have the money, the members, and the momentum. I'm sure for a few CU's out there, it might seem like this level of service and growth is unattainable. It might make you feel blue...Navy blue. As blue as you can be.

Don't be! You shouldn't think of your credit union as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Navy. With $58 billion in assets and this rate of growth, they're by far the largest CU in the world. The average CU has $149 million in assets and typically doesn't serve a group as large in scope as the Department of Defense, all Military branches and their respective families. It's apples and oranges. 

But there are ways of offering Navy Federal-level service to your members. Take a look at this passage from the Washington Post article above:

Instead of traditional teller lines, the 3,300-square-foot [technology concept branch] offers a more interactive experience [...] There are iPads and smartphones on hand to show members how to use the credit union’s mobile apps to make deposits, transfer money and check balances. A kids’ area includes electronic games about financial literacy.

The credit union’s newest members are typically between the ages of 18 and 34, Romano said, adding that they are interested in learning how to use new banking technology.

“When you join, we want to show you all of the different capabilities we have,” Romano said. “It’s sort of like when you buy a car and the [salesman] drives it around the neighborhood and shows you all the features.”

What a stellar idea! Show members first-hand how convenient your virtual branch - the branch you can keep growing, with no regard for real estate prices - really is. Offer them iPads and electronic doo-dads they can play with right there, in the branch, to see how easy they are to use. Give kids games they can play that show the value of the credit union's work. Show people how to use RDC, Online Banking, eStatements...everything. Give them a really good test drive and they'll be much happier.

If you don't have the people-power to get all this done in the first visit, consider using email to fill the gap. Make this discovery process part of the onboarding campaign. Do a great job of educating members on how well the virtual branch works and they won't have to beg you to open 60 new branches...they'll be satisfied with what you've got.

The world of credit union technology is often one of "Me, Too's." You don't have to outspend Navy Federal on branches and advertising to win new members or to keep your current members around. Often, it's as simple as showing them that membership with another CU (or being a customer at a bank) would be very much the same...except for the level of service and care your credit union is willing to provide. Technology gives you a level playing field. Good service gives you an advantage. That's true whether you have three branches or three hundred and ten.

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