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New Branch Experiences Differentiate Your Credit Union From Others



Author: Matt Purvis

Published in: CU Times

Date: 3/22/19


Professors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore published their groundbreaking book “The Experience Economy” in 1998. In it, they described an emerging stage of our economic development where “experiences” or “memories” become the essential product offering of all businesses. Twenty years ago, this prediction seemed so outlandish, particularly for retail financial services, that its implications for retail branch networks were unimaginable.


Over the intervening years, technological and market forces have conspired to level the competitive landscape, turning financial products, services and even processes into interchangeable commodities. As predicted by Pine and Gilmore, the experience economy requires industry leaders to reinvent the experience of banking in order to meaningfully differentiate one financial retailer from another:


  • Online and mobile technologies have allowed financial institutions to reduce costs by migrating routine transactions to digital tools.

  • These digital tools – both member-facing and back-office operations – have led to more standardized products, services and even processes, reducing the apparent differences between rival institutions.

  • Commodification and market saturation have dulled consumer perceptions of the industry, raising the stakes for new forms of differentiation.


The branch will never be the same. As many legacy functions at the branch decline, new experiences are taking center stage. But what exactly are they, and how do industry leaders find a relevant path forward with their retail strategies? Or, as some believe, is the branch finally facing its final days?


Mike Colvin, EVP and principal of Level 5, an Atlanta, Ga.-based design-build firm specializing in the financial services industry, sees it differently. “The branch is not dying, it’s morphing,” he said.


Reduced consumer traffic and self-service technologies mean that branch footprints are shrinking. And Level 5 believes these trends will continue as financial institutions continue to leverage digital technologies.


“Today, our branches simply don’t need to accommodate as many people,” Colvin said. As this trend continues, Level 5 believes the industry will respond with more innovative forms of “member engagement and member experience,” Colvin added.


Pine and Gilmore anticipated this development in their prescient book. Its subtitle paints the picture in a dramatic light: “Work Is Theatre and Every Business a Stage.” Perhaps the era calls for strategic showtime.


Mark Weber, CEO and chairman of strum (formerly Weber Design Group) in Seattle, Wash., said it all comes down to strategy. Asked what strum sees as the biggest trend in branch transformation, Weber replied, “The obvious answer … is not the answer.”


Weber cautioned, “If everyone is doing the same strategy, head for the hills! There is no one definition of the branch of the future.”


Instead, strum recommended that credit unions think deeply about their target audiences. “How do you build relevancy for the right audience?” Weber asked.


Weber illustrated the point by citing Amazon, the undisputed leader of the digital economy. “Amazon is building brick and mortar for people who want the brand experience,” he said.


Weber’s point is compelling. Amazon has determined that enough customers want a face-to-face, human brand experience for them to push against the trend and enter markets physically with retail facilities. The implication has a silver lining for credit union leaders. If the physical brand experience is that important to consumers deeply engaged in the online world, what precisely would your target audiences want from your branch network?


A surprising and innovative new approach to member and retail experience is being championed by the CUSO DaLand. DaLand started by asking, “What do credit unions need in order to drive a modern strategy?” according to DaLand founder and COO Jon Ungerland. Ungerland believes a modern strategy that allows credit unions to fluidly apply data insights across all touch points requires what DaLand calls “core-centric strategy.”


Ungerland explained core-centric strategy means that the credit union controls their “data center of gravity” much like Amazon, Google or Facebook. In place of multiple tools, each with its own data warehouse, Ungerland said that DaLand’s core-centric system allows credit unions to capture, manage and deliver data through all strategic channels – including the branch.


DaLand Vendor and Project Data Specialist Tommy Hawkins explained, “Our mission is to destroy the inefficiencies and the risks that platforms around the core create for our credit union clients.”


DaLand’s “core-centric” approach eliminates segregated data silos that limit the credit union’s ability to provide one consistent, seamless experience through all touch points, including the branch.

Whether this capability is considered a digital one or an extension of the branch experience depends on your point of view. For credit union members, it won’t matter. A well-differentiated, relevant and seamless experience is the goal of branch transformation.


Consumers have left the sales and service era behind. Today, they demand compelling, memorable experiences from their brands. Branch transformation is not simply a design concept or even a series of physical characteristics or qualities. Instead, branch transformation is about applying all the tools – human, physical and technological – to deliver seamless strategies that reinvent the experience of banking.




Matt Purvis is Principal of Purvis Management. He can be reached at matt@purvismanagement.com.

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