I love retail! I love the idea of walking into a store for something that is tangible. When I set out to purchase a prom dress for my daughter, I want to experience this with her. I want to see her beautiful smile and the sparkle in her eyes when she finds the perfect one. When I shop for a car, I want to test drive it. To smell its newness. When I shop online, I want the ease and convenience of my items showing up quickly to my doorstep. Especially when I can avoid the harsh winters in Michigan. So, what does all of this retail have to do with banking anyway?
When I heard “retail banking” for the first time, I didn’t picture walking into my credit union hoping for it to be just like Cabela’s. I don’t expect to be entertained. I expect great service and the affirmation that I matter! To be thanked for being a member. I expect that when I am shopping for a new car, I can apply for my loan from my credit union’s app and be ready to make a purchase. I expect that the atmosphere inside of the branch will be modern and warm. Staff to be inviting. I expect the website to be fresh and current.
All of this got me to thinking: I wonder what my credit union friends think? How would they define retail banking? Do they see themselves as different or unique in some way? Are they affected by “big box” retail bankers? In what ways do they set themselves apart from a traditional definition of retail banking. Is retail banking really one size fits all?
In the spirit of my curiosity I reached out Jenny Hoyle, President and CEO of Isabella Community Credit Union, Keith Stone, President and CEO of The Finest Federal Credit Union, and Linda Bodie, Chief + Innovator of Element Federal Credit Union. Here is what they said:
As a credit union, how do you define retail banking?
Jenny Hoyle: Anything that touches our members! It means presenting ourselves (product and service offerings) in an attractive, accessible way – whether in branch or via technology – and being easy to do business with.
Keith Stone: Retail banking is cooperative banking in our world. We are people helping people, but more specifically, police (law enforcement members of service) helping police.
Linda Bodie: In its simplest form, retail banking is the ability or process of selling stuff online without the intervention of a human. In its more complex form, retail banking is the ability or process of selling stuff online without the intervention of a human that people want or need at the TIME they want or need it, even when they don’t really know they want or need it! In other words, predicting needs, behaviors, and life events. And making it super easy.
In what ways is your credit union affected by the “big box” retail bankers?
Hoyle: Increased expectations for providing technology offerings faster. And that pressure is not just from big box retail bankers, but also FinTech and even other places our members experience technology (e.g. Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.).
In terms of how it’s shaped our strategies, creating the perception of more value due to size and number of locations. Although in our case we can accomplish this through technology (e.g. mobile remote deposit capture or debit cards), our cooperative partnerships (e.g. CO-OP network, Xtend Shared Branching), and our local engagement. We can definitely differentiate ourselves and successfully compete on that score!
Stone: Being a newly chartered credit union, we can’t compete with any of the larger financial institutions whether they are services being provided by Walmart or Chase Bank. What we offer is that the members of The Finest FCU are part of an exclusive club which only includes law enforcement personnel (uniform & civilian), retirees and family members. Aside from this fact, our credit union provides services outside of the traditional banking arena (big box or not). This includes, helping our members early mornings, late nights, any time of the weekend.
Bodie: I think people look to the big players for the big things. They are trusted and respected more simply because they are big and they advertise a lot! It’s “who has the biggest mouthpiece,” not “who has the best solution.” Credit unions can’t saturate the marketing channels. We have to market and reach people in different ways to set ourselves apart from the big banks. The message isn’t “big” but it reaches our members in a different way.
The threat in my mind is not from traditional “big box” retail bankers, but rather from the non-traditional providers wanting to enter the banking space – Amazon, Square, Walmart, etc. – who already have established brand and customer loyalty across a broad audience, as well as a reputation for value and/or ease of use. I mean, I am a loyal Amazon user… so are our employees and members!
In what ways does your credit union set itself apart from “traditional definitions” of retail banking?
Hoyle: By taking the service to members/prospective members through onsite visits and service fulfillment with other retail providers. For example, onsite car/loan sales at auto dealers, or membership signups at the local Sprint store. This year and next (and in the years to come), we will be expanding retail partnerships with other local businesses for remote merchant lending. We plan on reaching out to roofers, pool/hot tub dealers, medical providers, etc. We will also be focusing on streamlining processes to improve ease of use for members and employees alike.
Stone: Our board of directors are all members of service (active and retired) and we can empathize with our members. We know where they have been, where they are, and what their needs are. The Finest FCU provides great services including low rates on loans, high rates on savings and no required minimum balance on an interest-bearing checking account. Also, our fees are lower than most institutions.
Bodie: This is a complicated question. We have members who still want in-person relationship banking where they matter and they want a real person. We also have members who want to do everything online without ever talking to a human. Texting, messaging … they don’t want face to face or to talk at all. How do you balance this? We open as many channels as possible to meet the needs of the member. We don’t make them do it one way. They can do it multiples ways. FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, text, phone call, direct messages, chat. We are present on the platform and apps that our members use. We manage these relationships from a central portal (an iPad).
Retail Banking as defined by my peers is definitely not one size fits all. For each credit union there is a unique definition and strategy. However, what we all have in common is our steadfast belief in cooperative principles, allowing individual interest to align with the needs of the community. Are you curious on how to utilize core, analytics, technology, talent, insights and strategic partnerships to shape your retail banking strategies? Stay tuned for future articles and interviews where these topics and more will be addressed.