ATMs Are a Crucial Factor for Retaining Online Members

As credit unions look at ways to extend their convenience and attract new members, a new study reinforces the value of ATMs to maintaining relationships with online members.


Online banking users prefer to rely on ATMs and other self-service channels to meet their financial service needs, according to a recent survey of credit union online members conducted by Callahan’s Internet Strategy Consortium. Beyond transactions, online members also prefer to use the credit union website as their primary information resource for product information, loan updates, and to a lesser extent, account information.

Some credit unions have expressed concerns that heavy reliance on self-service means less exposure to good service and a lesser relationship. However, the research results do not bear this out. The survey revealed that the typical electronic service user is using more credit union products than the heavy branch users.

It is not that online members say they will never visit a branch - members do indicate that they want the branch to be an option should they have a need for personal attention. But overall, they prefer the convenience of self-service and expect their credit union to provide it. In fact, seven in ten online members mentioned other self-service capabilities that they would like to see their credit union make available to them. Most mentions were related to ATMs, in terms of more fee-free ATMs (42%), more ATM locations (40%), and lower ATM fees (17%). About one-tenth of members is interested in either self-service kiosks (11%) or online chat (9%).

Improve Online Information Regarding ATMs

The survey showed that members were not always clear about their credit union’s ATM network or fees. Credit unions need to ensure that they offer detailed online information that promotes the benefits of using ATMs and helps members find ATM locations. The credit union website should include the following:

  • Direct link to ATM locator on homepage
  • List capabilities available at ATMs (i.e. deposit capability)
  • Clear information about ATM fees – explain ranges for local ATM options
  • ATM deposit posting speed

Offer Fee-Free Benefits to Increase Relationships

Some financial institutions, such as Commerce Bank are starting to market fee-free usage of any ATMs. Commerce Bank’s fee rebate offer is tied to a $2,500 minimum checking account balance. At this time, it is not clear if larger financial institutions will pick up this trend or if it will remain a regional issue.

A recent survey by Synergistics Research found that more than half of ATM users say they are willing to switch banks in order to use any ATM in the country without paying a fee. When Compass Bank began rebating ATM fees, their new accounts rose 20% the first year.

Credit unions are also offering fee-free ATM usage for their members as part of their relationship-pricing program or as part of an e-account benefit package. Redwood Credit Union gives their members three free withdrawals each month at non-RCU ATMs but charges $1.00 fee for each additional withdrawal. Redwood offers unlimited free ATM transactions for participants in their Member Rewards program.

It’s all about Choices

As the member comment below illustrates, online members equate good service with the ability to conduct transactions at the time and channel that’s most convenient to them. Providing extensive ATM access and low or rebated fees can be a critical component in the online member relationship.

“I love going to the downtown branch, and meeting directly with a credit employee. Nothing can ever replace personal assistance. However, it is also wonderful to use the "bank" online on weekends and late night hours...having both is perfect for me. “

The Internet Strategy Consortium is a shared cost research group of 15 credit unions who conduct quarterly surveys with online members and identify strategies for improving online services.

For details on how any credit union can join the Internet Strategy Consortium, contact Denise Senecal at (800)-446-7453 or by email at