Branching Strategy, It Starts with the Member

Historically branches are seen as transaction channels. Today, this view of branches has changed and continues to evolve. Members and potential members like the convenience of brick and mortar, they like the demonstration of financial strength and security. Still, the truth is, they rely less on branches for their daily, weekly, and monthly transaction business than for new product adoption and problem-solving.

Successful branching must provide the following:

  1. Fast, friendly and accurate transactions
  2. Access to product and service adoption
  3. Helpful, non-judgmental counsel and advice
  4. Decisive and empowered problem-solving.

Of the four requirements above, only one requires the traditional teller line structure. For the other three, the model needs to present more of a conversational, consultative interaction model.

Another result of the change in how consumers interact with branches is the skill set requirements of the employees at the branch. Because branches are not used as often for simple transactions, especially when the branch is not at a SEG location, the number of transactions done in a branch decreases, but the length of the conversations increases as the conversations get more complicated. These consumer behaviors result in a more highly trained member service representative that may have been needed in the past. The branch employee today needs to be able to listen, diagnose, and prescribe expertly. They need to have a broad understanding of all of the products and services the credit union offers and be able to communicate clearly and concisely the features and benefits of each product and service. Although they don’t need to be loan underwriters/closers, they need to know the basics of loan underwriting so that they can inform and educate the member on the best course of action or the next steps. But even with these added skills and expectations, they still will need to be fast, accurate, and complete with all member transactions.

What is the branch of the future?

Unless the transaction volume dictates it, the branch does not need a traditional teller line in most cases. If branch activity requires a teller line, it should be off to a side or the back of the branch. Freestanding, stand-up member service pods create a more relaxed and conversational environment. These pods can be grouped in pairs sharing the cash recycling machine, a check scanner, and printer between them. They will not have the traditional cash drawer. There should be one ADA approved pod as part of one of the pairs. They will have a CRT that the employee shares with the member as part of the conversation allowing the member to see what the employee is seeing and entering. When appropriate, the employee would be able to display the latest credit report and use it as a sales aid in cross-selling other loan products. When possible, the employee would share the relationship matrix and show how the member could save money or make more money on new balances brought to the credit union. If a member wants to apply for a loan or enroll in online banking, the employee could pull up the online loan application and walk the member through it. If a member wants to switch banks, the employee will check the credit report for any balances to refinance and look for significant payments to transition over to online bill pay and walk them through the process by helping them make the first two+ bill pay entries. Over 85% of all transactions and conversations will be at these pods.

For very complex inquiries or problem-solving, there should be cubicles at the perimeter of the branch where the employee would take the member for increased privacy. 

Each branch would have one office that would be used by the branch manager for private meetings with staff or closings. The manager needs to be either on the floor 20% of the time, coaching 20% of the time, or in the community doing business development and community development 60% of the time building their franchise.

Member engagement flow would include a “concierge” or greeter to greet and direct the visitor immediately upon entry. This greeter would walk the visitor to a pod and begin the conversation. Another employee would take over the greeter role, or when the visitor has an appointment or wanted to talk to a specific person, the greeter would do a warm handoff/introduction.

During busy times there would be no queue lines, but the greeter would take their name. They would be free to sit, have a cup of water or coffee, browse the brochure rack or go online at a stand-up (plus one ADA approved) computer station to check out our website, do some web research, check their account online, etc. Once their name was displayed, the assigned employee would ask for them by name and introduce him/herself and direct them to a pod to begin the conversation.

Their dress/logo wear would quickly identify each employee. During the spring and summer, this would be khakis (pants, skirts, or skorts) and branded polo shirts, during the fall and winter they would wear khakis (pants, skirts or skorts) and a collared logo shirt, fleece, sweater or sports jacket optional.

Each employee should have a name tag with the non-profit they support with their money, time, or talent in place of their title.

Each employee should be digitally savvy and be reasonable experts on the credit union’s mobile, online, loan application software, payment systems, and remote deposit capture. Part of their role will be to help the member become aware of these access points and transition their basic transaction needs to them. Branches should ultimately become centers for problem-solving, research, financial wellness, and discovery. 

Branch staffing would include one manager, one business developer, and two or more branch employees; the number of employees will be driven by branch volume and time of day as traffic dictates.

Branch hours should be driven by member demand and expectations, not by schedules of the past. Branch hours should also reflect the needs of the community the branch is serving. If a branch is in an area that is primarily commuters, a schedule that adapts to the commuter schedules should determine hours and staffing. A flexible staffing schedule will allow for split shifts, part-time employees, job sharing, etc. to meet the branch scheduled.

Branch merchandising would include:

  • Digital marketing screens
  • Brochure rack with our product and service offering
  • A comfortable seating area, facing the digital marketing screen and close to the brochure rack with current publications on money and money management (“Money” magazine, “Consumer Reports,” Wall Street Journal, local Business paper, as examples.)
  • A charging station for cell phones, laptops, and tablets
  • A coffee bar with freshly brewed coffee
  • Product/service posters (space available) with product promotions or campaigns
  • A community station (area) that identifies our community connections and community give-back.
  • A member give-back area that demonstrates how much money we have given back to our members via rate and fee structure – a running ticker
  • A showcase area where a member that owns a small business can showcase their product or highlights a local charity


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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