Whether you are looking to expand your reach in the community, provide more convenience to existing members, or just open a cost-effective location with expanded hours, you might be considering the possibility of in-store branching. But before you proceed, you should ask yourself: “How do I identify a partner who is right for my credit union?
Finding the best partner is much more complicated than simply expanding your service to a convenient location. Linda Boring, Senior VP of Administration at Community America Credit Union, advises that you should “approach in-store branching as if you are entering into a mutual partnership, and not just adding another branch.” According to Bryan Jones and Keith Fernandez of Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union, “There are two levels you need to examine when considering potential partners from the retail world: the ability to form a synergistic relationship, and the geographic location of the possible branches.” The relationship with your partner is the most important aspect of an in-store branch, so forming a partnership should be examined carefully.
Find Someone who Shares your Values?
Working with a compatible partner cannot be stressed enough. When looking at potential partners, examine their value structure, read their messaging, learn their history, and find out what the public perception of the company is. Consider whether they are an employee-owned company or publicly traded. Be sure that you would feel positive about being associated with them.
A credit union’s commitment to service can be extended if the credit union partners with a like-minded customer-service-oriented organization. Community America partnered with the employee-owned company Hy-Vee, while Denali Alaskan partnered with the Safeway-owned Carrs/Quality Centers, which is recognized as one of the most trusted and respected brands in the state. By partnering with organizations who share similar values, these credit unions avoided potential conflict that can arise when partners don’t see eye-to-eye on service issues.
Link with a Partner who can see the Mutual Benefit of the Relationship?
The best partnerships stem from the synergy created when both partners can see mutual benefit in the relationship. You have to be able to create a cooperative where your branch manager and the manager of the in-store outlet interact daily, updating each other about their respective operations. An open communication at the managerial level will help foster a synergistic relationship between the two companies occupying the same space. They can each propel their employees to assist each other and work together to provide exceptional service for anyone who visits the location.
In an in-store branch, you are exceptionally positioned to offer services to the employees of your partner; in single stores, this can potentially be more than 100 members. If you can treat those employees to a positive experience, then you will add 100 advocates who interact with thousands of community members passing through the location daily. After fostering a positive relationship with employees at several Carrs/Safeway locations, Denali Alaskan experienced an unexpected benefit when Carrs/Safeway employees from locations without retail branches began referring customers to Denali Alaskan.
Make their Location Work for You?
Try to partner with someone who can help you positively expand your geographic footprint. A company with several chain stores in a region usually can provide ample opportunity for gradual expansion in a desired area. A good start might be a single in-store branch (perhaps within relatively close proximity to a “brick and mortar” location), then expanding to more of your partner sites as you see fit. It is best to locate in-store branches in an area that complements your existing membership, yet also exposes many new potential members to your message.
Promote Yourself within the Store?
It is important to investigate whether you will be able to promote your presence within the location. Discuss the possibility of having some of your representatives “soft selling” in the aisles, broadcasting promotions over the P.A. system, placing materials in different areas of the site, presenting information in a partner employee meeting, or even collaborating for a community or charity event. Many credit unions have found such opportunities to be very valuable in their partner relationships.
Find a Partner yourself or through a Third Party
Find a partner either of two ways. Use a third-party to facilitate the negotiations, or set something up yourself. The former route seems to have gained popularity among credit unions recently.
Community America pursued an interesting strategy when it decided to partner with two local “mom-and-pop” grocery stores to gauge the response to in-store branching in their area. The two locations turned out to be extremely successful, and when a third party presented an opportunity to partner with Hy-Vee, Community America felt they were ready to expand with a larger partnership.
Denali Alaskan used a third party to initiate the relationship with Carrs/Safeway and started out with two in-store branches. Since establishing that relationship, they added their two most recent in-store branch locations themselves.
Finding a partner complementary to your credit union should always be at the forefront of any discussion involving in-store branching. The relationship could be your best friend or worst enemy and will largely define your retail branch experience. Evaluate the potential relationship honestly and enter into a partnership that is a good fit for you. It could be the beginning of a beautiful thing.