Ask the Experts: Branch Operations
In this series, we take a look at the inner workings of the Credit Union and meet some of the champions who help our members in every facet of their financial lives. This month, we met up with expert Brian Shotwell, whose passion for building relationships with members helps shape the service culture at American Heritage's branches.
Following the completion of an Education degree at the University of Delaware, Brian started his career at American Heritage in the Facilities Department. He worked there both part-time and full-time for just shy of a year before applying for the Branch Manager Program. After spending time in various positions in Branch Operations, Brian now is the Vice President of Branch Operations.
What role do branches play in the relationship between a Credit Union and its members?
The relationship between Credit Unions and their members is ever-changing. Members primarily visit branches for transactional needs such as cash and loan interactions. The Credit Union has identified the importance in taking a consultative approach in assisting members. Associates are required to complete the Financial Literacy Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP) which provides them with the skills and knowledge required to guide their members to sound financial decisions. Branches of the future will provide members with the opportunity to interact and transact in a variety of ways in addition to providing immediate access to Subject Matter Experts.
How did branch associates adapt to the changes during the pandemic? How has the pandemic affected branches and in-person transactions for the future?
At the onset of the Pandemic, the Credit Union reacted quickly as new information was provided, basically following a weekly adapt-and-change process. American Heritage deployed Personal Automated Teller (PAT) Machines throughout the branch network, and taught staff new technology and other duties. In a positive turn of events, the pandemic was a great cross-training opportunity to gain new skills and experiences. Branch associates were able to transition to PAT tellers working out of their regular office, assisting members across the branch network. In addition, associates assisted members by fielding calls remotely and in-branch which aided with the influx of volume. Members embraced the use of technology and service options offered to them. Associates will continue to assist members through these various channels.
What separates physical branches from other forms of Credit Union Service?
The human experience happens through all channels. Our physical branches allow members to interact and engage with our associates in person. Branches have also served as destinations having hosted Chamber and community events as well as provided space to non-profit organizations for events and training. The branch associates focus on our value statement, helping members feel like family while looking out for their best interests. We celebrate success stories on a weekly basis and make sure to share them with management. Some of the most powerful issues are addressed on the front line, like struggles and goals (home ownership, credit improvement). Our team works with them and develops a plan over time, and they come back through the doors and share their happiness – it’s an amazing feeling.
What is the most rewarding part of being a branch associate?
The most rewarding part is positively impacting a member’s life. Financial wellbeing is an intimate piece of someone’s life that can be difficult to talk about. To have members open up, connect, and let you guide them through that experience is very fulfilling. For example, helping a member with their very first loan to eventually getting a mortgage is a process that takes time, trust and creates a family-like relationship.
Why do Credit Unions still need physical branches in a digital age?
For American Heritage, it is part of our culture to have a place where members can gather; physical footprints provide a place for members to interact with our associates. We utilize technology to offer many channels to our members to ensure their needs are met in a way that is convenient for them. We incorporate video technology to connect members to Subject Matter Experts both in-branch and remotely. Branches also allow us to share a space with mortgage and insurance partners, investment advisors, to name a few, creating a one-stop shop that is always evolving. Several of our locations have community rooms available for use, such as the blood drives that were held during the Pandemic.
Why do some members still prefer in-person transactions even though they can conduct the same transaction digitally?
There are many different reasons: generational comfortability, personal relationships, routine behavior, and more. The pandemic has enabled more members to embrace technology and self-serve options. Our goal is to educate the membership on the various ways to achieve their needs and letting them make the choice.
What do branches and in-person transactions look like in the next 5-10 years?
Our branches already have Personal Automated Teller (PAT) Machines, which are a good bridge between a complete self-service model and face-to-face branch representative. Moving forward, we anticipate the deployment of more ITMs (Interactive Teller Machines) and full self-serve units to perform simple transactions like check deposits or cash withdrawals and deposits. In-branch staff interactions will be more towards mortgage or loan questions, account assistance, financial advice and services that are deeper in nature. Other expected industry technologies are tap-and-go card tech, fast access to cash and cards issued through phones—your phone will be your bank.
Why are so many branches installing Personal Automated Teller (PAT) Machines?
Due to the PAT Machine deployment success during the pandemic, increased presence of the technology is part of our future. If you haven’t already tried using a PAT Machine, you should meet PAT! In short, PAT Machines are used for their efficiency, as they free up associates for more advisory roles, providing them the opportunity to advance their careers. PAT Machines in our Drive-Thru extended hours for more service time beyond branch hours.
Due to the PAT Machine deployment success during the pandemic, increased presence of the technology is part of our future. Efficiency is the main factor, as PAT Machines make it possible to have one representative assisting a member anywhere, as well as have more in-depth conversations to uncover their true needs and achieve their financial goals. Another part of our plan is transitioning the team to be more consultative, trusted advisors.
“I have a busy schedule, is there a way ensure I can meet with an American Heritage representative about a financial goal I have?”
Busy members should take advantage of our Better Lobby scheduling tool, which includes flexible features like online queuing that lets members “stand in line” on the go or check wait times prior to arriving. Check into your appointment before entering the branch lobby with the curbside check-in feature or communicate with the front desk using our soon-to-come chat feature if you’re running late. Additional services like our Video Advisor Network Associates (VANA) allow members to interact with an associate from anywhere, such as the comfort of their own home.
With so many different channels, you can complete nearly any task from anywhere. Having multiple options for any one service allows members to choose what’s best for their needs.
There is a national trend of banks and credit unions closing branch locations. Should we be worried?
No, there is no need to worry. Companies are reacting to the pandemic differently, and financial institutions are making their own choices as far as consolidating branches or work from home initiatives. American Heritage embraces the credit union movement philosophy of people helping people and is continuing to expand our branch network. Besides operating as physical banking locations, many of our branches have community or multipurpose rooms that also help serve the surrounding neighborhood. During previous struggles in the financial industry, we experienced growth thanks to our leadership team, where everyone has bought into the mission to positively impact as many communities as possible.
Find your nearest branch and information about its services on our Locations page!
Hopefully, we can stop talking about the pandemic soon. Lives worldwide have been impacted, but Brian could not be happier with the way American Heritage reacted to the pandemic and is proud of the associates, as this has been rough on everyone in every way. This experience has shown that our team can be adaptive and flexible, while building character and showing what we could go through. Being there for our members has always been a priority, and the associates showed that and persevered. It has certainly been an interesting year and a half, and Brian is excited to be rounding the corner. Reopening the branches has been a change: tough at first but rewarding to get the membership back in and interacting again. He thinks American Heritage is doing great things for members and the community, with only more greatness in the future to come. The sky is the limit.