There is growing concern that bank branches are an endangered species. Many banks are shutting down or minimizing their branches. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, U.S. banks closed nearly three thousand branches in 2021.
Workers Credit Union sees its branches as an essential part of the work it does to help members. When a person walks into a Workers Credit Union location, called a “PlanIt Center,” the reaction is immediate. It doesn’t look like your typical bank branch. There are no lines with roped barriers leading to a row of tellers sitting behind high counters that separate members from staff. Members are greeted by a friendly, life-sized hologram named Olivia who speaks several languages including ASL. Video Teller ITMs allow members to do their banking and instantly engage with live local Video Tellers. Nearby are tall digital pillars that allow members to use touch screen technology to increase their financial wellness knowledge in an engaging way, such as answering financial wellbeing quizzes. Behind all of that are a series of comfortable, inviting, and private booths perfect for face-to-face meetings.
The PlanIt Center design tells a larger story about a dramatic change in how Workers Credit Union serves its members by prioritizing financial wellness. In 2018, WCU began investing in a new business model, shifting away from solely offering transactional banking and toward a holistic focus on the financial wellbeing of its members. The company was motivated by the statistic that almost 40% of Americans struggle to afford a $400 emergency expense, such as a medical bill or car repair, and a vast number of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck at all income levels.
Seeing the need, WCU developed the Workers WayTM, a proprietary approach to helping members take control of their future and achieve their goals at every life stage through personalized financial coaching. It is a one-on-one financial coaching experience provided at no additional cost to its members. “For many people, there is a huge shame and stigma attached to the money challenges they face,” says Doug Petersen, President, and CEO of Workers Credit Union. “Workers Way is judgment free. We empower our members to pursue their dreams.” All Workers branch staff are trained and certified financial coaches.
By replacing impersonal counters with booths, members can meet with their certified financial Workers Way™ coaches to map out a route towards their financial goals and dreams without being intimidated or concerned about being overheard. “When people feel comfortable and have a private space to be heard, they have meaningful discussions that lead to good financial decisions,” says Bob Lockett, Chief Strategy Officer, and SVP of Diversified Services at Workers Credit Union. Since the implementation of the PlanIt model, a quarter of visits are to see Workers Way financial coaches with 16% of those being follow up visits.
Workers Way™ coaching helped Workers Credit Union member and single parent Julia take control of her finances. “I’m realizing that I don’t have to be worried about money now that I’m learning how to budget it and where to put it and it’s exciting to see there’s green colors on my bank account instead of red,” she says. Another pair of members, Sean and Edward, say “Workers Credit Union and our coach Jerusa became our savior.” The couple was in danger of losing their home before partnering with their Workers Way™ financial coach. In many cases members who work with coaches have seen their credit score improve by more than a hundred points.
Another priority in the branch design was using technology to take the friction out of banking. “We want to make banking a fun, interactive experience that matches the way people get their information today,” says Lockett. Communicating with the hologram Olivia allows members to be greeted in whatever language makes them most comfortable, creating a more inclusive experience. The Video Teller ITM’s take the wait-time out of traditional banking, as they are available for answering questions and offering advice in real time, and with hours that extend beyond the normal branch hours. They encourage self-service banking, allowing staff to fully engage members in the Workers Way. The technology pillars feature award-winning applications and original content to immerse members in an interactive environment.
The design of Workers Credit Union PlanIt centers is so groundbreaking that it earned the title “Best of Show” at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Virtual Conference for facilitating an innovative approach to member service.
Workers Credit Union locations represent the future of banking branches that combine the latest technology and design with the personalized service that members expect. The branch design is at once warm and modern and creates a member experience unique to the market. It pushes the envelope while also making members feel comfortable, represented, and welcome. The design is modular and can easily be changed to meet member needs as they evolve. Workers Credit Union currently has four PlanIt Centers, with the goal of expanding its service area to new communities and converting all existing locations to PlanIt Centers.