AUSTIN, Texas—Washington State Employees Credit Union has saved nearly $2 million in staffing costs since 2013 as a result of converting branches from a traditional teller line to a modern pod-based system and shifting to a universal teller model.

WSECU VP of Retail Kris King explained that the $2.7 billion-asset WSECU converted to a universal teller model in 2013. At approximately the same time, the credit union began shifting some of its branches away from traditional teller lines to a pod layout. All employees – regardless of whether or not their branch was being converted – were given the option to stay in their current position when the universal teller shift took place, he said – a position that came with higher pay and increased expectations.

The credit union saw 16 staffers leave during the first year, with further reductions in subsequent years, for a total of 35 fewer full-time employees (a 16% decline) for a total savings of $1.93 million – more than enough to pay for a branch remodel.

The money WSECU has saved in staffing costs will likely be redirected toward additional technology and further deployment of pod branches, King said during his presentation at the Future Branches conference.

Kris King, VP of retail operations at Washington State Employees Credit Union, at the 2017 Future Branches conference in Austin, Texas.
Kris King, VP of retail operations at Washington State Employees Credit Union, at the 2017 Future Branches conference in Austin, Texas.

WSECU has 21 branches across Washington State, seven of which feature the pod model, and is now converting one branch per year.

The intention with moving to the pod model, King explained, was “to capitalize on a low-effort” experience for both the membership and staff.

While WSECU has been pleased with the move to pods, the format is not without its challenges, he said, noting that the model can be difficult in high-traffic branches and works best in neighborhood locations.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, said King, has been member satisfaction levels – more specifically, that satisfaction levels didn’t change much.

WSECU pulled six months’ worth of survey data and found only miniscule differences in member satisfaction results. Overall, 89 percent of members reported satisfaction across all branches; broken down by pod versus traditional branch, there was only a 0.30 percent change.

Despite limited changes to satisfaction rates, WSECU has learned a number of lessons from moving to pods and universal tellers. For one thing, said King, the credit union realized that different demographics have different needs and expectations when it comes to privacy. While younger members don’t mind being close to others, older members prefer to keep their conversations with MSRs more private. As a result, WSECU now spaces pods further apart than it did when it began converting branches.

Additionally, said King, credit unions entering into a pod-based branching format should not underestimate the need for staff training and support.

“If you fail in that retail business, it’s going to impact your business across the board, no matter how great your digital technology is,” he warned.