AUSTIN, Texas—How can credit unions debut new or remodeled branches without alienating members resistant to change?

That was the challenge faced by Rivermark Community CU and USE Credit Union, respectively, as each institution sought to modernize facilities and improve service.

For Rivermark Community, the key was getting buy-in from the membership and ensuring they understood why the credit union was doing what it was doing, said Randy Bresee, VP of member experience, speaking on a panel during the Future Branches summit here. RCCU shifted to a branch model with concierge service, video tellers and privacy rooms for more in-depth interactions, and Bresee explained that any member service specialist can now assist with any transaction or service a member requires.

“It’s a different experience and a better experience for our members, and once they really understand what we’re doing, the adoption rate is much greater,” he said, adding that giving members tours of the branch helped boost buy-in. Additionally, Rivermark Community remained open throughout the entire construction process, and Bresee said letting members be present throughout all the sawing, nailing and hammering made them feel like they were part of the process.

Rather than just remodeling, USE Credit Union built a new branch to replace one of its existing facilities.

“In some ways [with a remodel] I think it would’ve been easier for members to see the transition, because they would have gotten used to it,” explained Billie Jo Cardenas, VP of retail & marketing. Since members couldn’t see that process, USE CU reps talked members through the process, explaining that the new branch would be more modern, more secure, and get MSRs out from behind the teller lines and into the lobby helping people.

That was a huge step in adoption and acceptance of the new branch, she explained, because members were able to still see familiar faces and knew the MSRs they trusted would still be around. Those employees were also key to ensuring that members – especially those who were reluctant to embrace new technologies – adopted some of the new e-service and self-service options USE had deployed at that branch.

“Members need to have choices in the transition,” said Cardenas. “We never force them to choose the tech. We’ll stand by you and use it for you and push the buttons and put the cash in if you want, or we can go into an office or go stand at the teller station.” Offering that flexibility, she said, helped get members accustomed to those changes.

Cardenas and Bresee spoke as part of a panel on branch transformations held during the Future branches conference here. They were joined on the panel by two representatives from traditional banks.

Rivermark Community’s Bresee echoed the sentiment that employees are the key to successful transitions.

“It really boils down to the people,” he said. “When we were in the construction phase, a lot of people continued to come see us. They knew our tellers, they knew who we were, they had relationships with us. Once we transferred to a new model, the concierge is really the lynchpin of our success.”

Conierges are able to either direct members to the right representative or assist in the transaction themselves. And when a concierge leaves to work with a member, another member service specialist on the floor immediately takes his or her place.

Planning for pushback

Both executives said they were prepared in the event that members pushed back against the new facilities or the new technologies.

Cardenas said USE Credit Union understood that it might lose some members as a result of the changes, either because members didn’t like the new location or the new technology, though the credit union did a lot of marketing for the new facility, including sharing 3-D renderings with members and letting them know it would be a different branching model with an increased focus on technology.

“We’ve had members, typically a bit older, who have complained – but I don’t always think it’s equated to the technology as much as it is just to the change in general,” she said, adding that many members just want their voices heard. Once those members see that they can do the same transactions and interact with the same service reps, she noted, they’re usually fine with the changes.

“We call every single person who’s made any sort of comment; we make them feel valued and we thank them for their feedback and we provide an alternative, and we hope they’ll stay with us,” noted Cardenas. “But we know that for every one who opts out, we’re going to gain 10 more of the type of people we’re [trying to attract], and you have to be OK with that.”

For Rivermark Community, the results have been better than expected.

“When we opened our first resource center, it was a steady branch – 12,000 transactions per month – and we said if we lost 10 percent of the members in this branch, would that be OK, understanding that this isn’t the model for everybody,” said Bresee. “We’ve lost 35 members total as a result of this branch transformation; it’s the people.”