Credit Union Branches—Still Relevant In 2021?


As the pandemic accelerates the changing role of branches, credit unions must assess where they uniquely fit in.

As we enter 2021, it’s widely understood that COVID-19 was a major accelerator for digital transformation in banking. Credit unions’ most highly engaged members didn’t need a pandemic to push them into digital channels, but for others, it was a clear impetus to increase their comfort with remote deposits, online banking, and other digital services.

Now the question remains. Will the digital usage stick, and what does that mean for credit union branches?

Understanding the Role of the Branch

The demise of branches has been predicted for many years, but just like paper checks, they continue to retain a place in financial services. At least pre-pandemic, there were a couple of key reasons for this.

People need social interaction. Human beings are social by nature, and for some—particularly members of older generations—the desire for human interaction supersedes the convenience of digital channels. Some members view branch employees as key members of the community and form genuine relationships with them. These members are likely to return to branch banking post-pandemic, though the frequency may be impacted by the increased adoption of digital channels.

Branches are the preferred channel for new products. A February 2019 global survey by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services found that across all age groups, branches were the preferred channel for applying for new products. Particularly when it comes to more complex financial interactions, many consumers still prefer the human touch. Financial decisions like purchasing a home or investing for the future are personal and weighty, and even the digital native, tech-forward millennial and Gen Z consumers want in-person guidance from a trusted adviser.

Overall customer satisfaction is influenced more strongly by branch interactions. High customer satisfaction is what every institution is after, and the same Deloitte survey revealed that branch satisfaction had a greater impact on overall satisfaction than other channels.

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