A New Branch Design Brings Digital Technology To The Fore At WSECU

Why the credit union is heavily engaged in making sure it has a physical presence in its communities.

Where did everyone go? Nowhere. Navigating the world of financial services now requires only a device, an app, and a connection. A credit union’s members can handle their transactions in the now, wherever they happen to be.

Digital offerings are an expectation for the online-driven millennial generation, but that expectation is catching hold with established credit union members, too. At the same time, an empirical study published by ResearchGate found that convenient location ranks second behind interest rates on deposits and loans for what consumers look for in a financial institution. This gives the community branch value.


Data as of 06.30.16

  • HQ: Olympia, WA
  • Assets: $2.5B
  • Members: 242,589
  • Branches: 20
  • 12-MO Share Growth: 10.2%
  • 12-MO Loan Growth: 4.3%
  • ROA: 0.84%

There is a lot of talk about branches dying and being dead due to the effect of digital media, says Gary Swindler, chief operating officer of Washington State Employees Credit Union ($2.5B, Olympia, WA). We consider our branches to be our billboards in the community. We’re heavily engaged in making sure we have a physical presence in the community because it’s important to the consumer.

Swindler says he doesn’t see brick-and-mortar branches going away completely but admits the credit union’s future operations initiatives will focus on digital services.

WSECU’s solution to the digital dilemma is twofold. In 2012, the 230,000-member organization began adopting the universal banker model. Instead of relying on a staff of specialized tellers, loan officers, and account managers, WSECU staffs its branches with member consultants who are trained to handle all basic financial functions, including loans, new accounts, and counter functions. Only mortgage loans and investment services remain separate.

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Now, WSECU is taking the universal banker concept one step further.

We’re heavily engaged in making sure we have a physical presence in the community because it’s important to the consumer.

To cement the change in staff functionality, it changed its approach to lobby design. No more teller counters and desks. Ten of WSECU’s 20 branches now have open-layout lobbies that feature pod-like workstations where member consultants help members and prospective members.

The set up is not only more efficient for the WSECU member but also allows for a more efficient credit union.


WSECU_Branch1 WSECU_Branch2
Universal bankers at WSECU can handle all basic financial functions. Photo courtesy of WSECU. WSECU’s new branches have a footprint of 1,800 to 2,400 square feet. Photo courtesy of WSECU.

We have statistical models in place that showed member consultants could serve more people efficiently, Swindler says. We became so efficient that through attrition we were able to reduce staff, which saves us about $1.8 million a year. We can take that money and put it toward member value whether good rates, better digital experience, or cybersecurity.

Combining skill sets means leaner staffing, and pods require less space than a teller counter, desks, and cubicles. The result is that WSECU’s new branches have a considerably smaller footprint 1,800 to 2,400 square feet for the new branch design versus 3,500 to 4,000 for existing branches.

We now build branches for half the cost we did five years ago, says the COO. And we operate them at half the cost on annual basis. You get the benefit both on the build and expense side as well as in lower staff costs.

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In the new WSECU lobbies, technology is front and center. The pods are the main decor. Each pod is a two-person workstation that includes a monitor that moves on an arm. During a consultation, the member sits at the side.

All the technology is right there in terms of systems and forms and processes, Swindler says. There’s no need to hand off a member from one employee to another. No need to change locations. All that can happen at that one workstation.
The pods also have behind-the-line teller cash recyclers in lieu of a cash drawer.

We manage right through that machine, Swindler says. The money goes into and out of a secure safe with every transaction.

For security reasons, Swindler declined to give further specifics.

In addition, each WSECU branch offers iPads for members to use for research, digital transactions, and more.

To open a new account, members fill out the application right there and fund the account, Swindler says. [They] then meet with a consultant to answer questions or dive back into the application.


WSECU_Branch3 WSECU_Branch4
A more efficient branching and staffing strategy has saved the Washington credit union approximately $1.8 million a year. Photo courtesy of WSECU. Open-layout lobbies at WSECU feature pod-like workstations where employees help members and prospective members. Photo courtesy of WSECU.

The credit union has built four new branches since 2012 that feature open-layout lobbies and has converted six existing facilities to the design. According to Swindler, WSECU will budget for more retrofits each year.

WSECU used SkB Architects, of Seattle, WA, to help it redesign its branch model. Find your next solution in the Callahan & Associates online Buyer’s Guide.

The COO says the revamped approach to staffing is the critical piece in WSECU’s new branch model.

To introduce the universal banking concept to the staff, WSECU set up a member consultant think-tank the smartest thing the credit union did, according to Swindler that included a mix of employees from across the credit union.

You want people going through this kind of change to feel empowered to make the change, Swindler says. I made big strategic decisions, but they made it happen. We’re focused on member experience, and a lot came out of their recommendations.

Employee buy-in aside, retraining was also essential.

A generalist has to be good at everything, Swindler says. You want consultation to be spot-on and service level and expertise to stay high.

WSECU was diligent about establishing training models and took the training model for its floaters, generalists by nature, and blew it up.

Overall, WSECU’s branching and staffing models appears to be working. Based on an internal survey conducted by a third-party, the credit union went from an excellence rating of 88% in 2012 to 93% in 2016. That’s good news because for Swindler, there’s no turning back.

The expectation from millennials is low effort, easy to use, convenient, he says. At the end of the day, we’re just an errand on someone’s list.

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February 3, 2017

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