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Bank Branch Revolution
Published Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sara Kelley, a members service representative, at a dialogue pod at Bellwether Community Credit Union in Manchester.Photo by Matthew J. Mowry

As the popularity of mobile banking increases, one might conclude the death knell should be ringing for traditional brick and mortar branches. But that’s not the case. People still need advice on loans and other financial matters, and traditional bank and credit union branches are undergoing dramatic changes to meet the needs of 21st century customers.  

Among those evolving is the Rochester and downtown Dover branches of Holy Rosary Credit Union. Beginning last year, renovations of those branches did away with traditional teller lines, unveiling new interactive teller machines that allow members to video chat with a live teller. It’s all part of an effort to deliver personal banking in a digital age.

The renovation of the 15-year-old Dover branch was completed this spring, with the new interactive teller machine (ITM) system, HRCU Live. Unlike traditional ATMs, this new virtual teller allows most banking transactions to be done remotely with a human teller in HRCU’s support center.

“The Dover branch HRCU Live is the first such drive-up ITM system in the area, and we are pleased to be at the forefront of introducing this cutting-edge technology to our community,” says HRCU President and CEO Brian Hughes.

The ITM can be used as a traditional ATM, or if the member has questions or wants to cash or deposit a check from the ITM, they can click on a teller machine and a call center rep appears on screen. The service is available during branch hours, and the ITM functions as a traditional ATM after hours.

The renovated Rochester and Dover branches also added “dialogue pods,” following a trend, they say, to break down physical barriers between tellers and customers, eliminate lines and provide more personalized service.

Hughes says most members who come into a branch now are not looking to make simple transactions like cashing checks or making deposits, as they can do that through a mobile app. Rather, most in-person customers are seeking advice on complicated issues like loan or mortgage services, financial planning or insurance.

“All of our member service associates are certified financial counselors. We made an investment in that. It allows them to help counsel members better,” he says.

Upon entering the branches, customers are escorted to a dialogue pod or private office,  depending on their needs. “Everyone will be greeted when they come in,” Hughes says. “We have an inviting waiting area. You can have cup of coffee and do a transaction.” And pods come with cash machines so tellers can continue to help members with traditional transactions as well.

The branch renovations come on the heels of one of the credit union’s biggest growth years, Hughes says, noting the credit union broke through the 20,000-member mark in 2016. “Our asset growth was up 13 percent, loan growth up 10 percent, and deposit growth was up 13 percent,” he says.

The lobby at Holy Rosary Credit Union in Dover. Courtesy photo.

Holy Rosary is not alone in reimagining its brick and mortar operations. Bellwether Community Credit Union in Manchester was among the first in the state to replace traditional teller lines with individual teller stations. Bellwether adopted dialogue banking at its Nashua branch in 2006 and then at its Manchester headquarters three years ago.

The move allows tellers to help members with more than just transactions, says Sue Beauties, vice president of retail services at Bellwether. “Tellers—we call them MSRs, Member Service Representatives—at Bellwether don’t carry just traditional responsibilities; they refer business to account opening staff, financial service consultants and often take care of account maintenance and teach members how to save time and money right at the lobby pods,” she says, adding such referrals have doubled in the past five years.

In 2016, MSRs began helping members with online and mobile banking questions and enrollments.  “This hands-on help has proven to be one of the best tools to help grow mobile banking adoption after our technology upgrading in April [2016]. Since that upgrade, the average MSR helps 10 to 15 members each month with an online/mobile question or enrollment,” she says.

Bellwether President Michael L’Ecuyer says the switch to dialogue banking and the pods has increased sales of banking services and products because members are coming in with questions and can spend the time needed with representatives to find the right answers. He says it also adds transparency as members stand next to representatives and see their account information on the computer screen. “They [MSRs] are engaging people with what is important to them,” he says. “It’s a huge benefit to members. They feel more comfortable.”

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