Fort Knox CU Finds Gold In The Old And The New

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You can be all things to all people. Or at least that's what Fort Knox FCU here is trying to do. And seeing as how the CU has been among the top 4% of most profitable credit unions in the nation, it would certainly seem as if the $385-million CU is succeeding.

FKFCU's secret is best exemplified in its new headquarters, designed by the St. Louis, Mo.-based HBE, which offers high-tech alternatives side-by-side with "old-fashioned," tried and true, low-tech solutions.

Take, for example, the teller line. Fort Knox wanted to adopt the high-tech remote teller system, which requires members to interact with the CU's teller via video screen. Pneumatic tubes are used to pass money, documentation or any other materials required for a given transaction between teller and member.

But FKFCU recognized that some of its members, more set in their ways, may wish to continue stepping up to a teller counter and interact with the teller in a truly face-to-face environment. So, in addition to four video teller stations, there is a traditional teller line with four stations at the counter.

"We could have gone to a total electronic branch," said CEO Bill Rissell. "We have been very careful to accommodate people who want to be served in a more technological or traditional manner. When you walk into our lobby, you see a lot of earth tones and wood, but you also see flat screen and exposed neon tubes. Everyone can find a level of service that they are happy with."

"The traditional teller lines aren't as efficient as the video tellers. The video tellers can do about 30% more transactions and with less queuing time," he related. "We try to direct as many people as possible to the video tellers, but if there's no line (at the standard teller counter) they'll go to the traditional tellers. But if there is a line, most folks are happy to give the video tellers a try."

And what even the cynics are finding is that in some ways, the video teller can offer a more personal experience. "As soon as a member walks up to a video teller, the teller can say, 'hi, I'll be right with you,' even while the teller is still helping another member. It's really much more personal than the traditional four-lane teller counter," Rissell suggested. "I do notice that some tellers seem to do better on video than others. They just have the presence to speak into the camera."

And when no one is using one of the video teller stations, the monitor rotates between credit union promotions and CNN, just like the flat screens elsewhere in the lobby.

The credit union's approach to loan applications reflects this same philosophy. "We have four computers with access to our website where members can apply for a loan online," he explained. "And then right next to those, we also have the low-tech solution: clipboards with paper applications."

Some might ask why a person would trek all the way to the CU lobby to apply for a loan over the Internet, when they could just as easily do it from home or work, if they have Internet access. But some don't have Internet access, and some want the "security blanket" of being able to ask for help with it the first time around, and then they'll feel more comfortable doing it from home the next time, he said. "Most people who come into the lobby are not applying for loans on the computer, but we have it there so they can learn about that service."

Fort Knox also decided to take a new approach to safe deposit boxes. "I wanted to eliminate the expense of safe deposit boxes. They're not a money-maker, but they're labor intensive, in that we either had to have someone who was designated to go with a member to open a safe deposit box, or members would have to stand around waiting for someone to become available to accompany them to the safe deposit box. Not anymore."

Instead, the CU has opted for self-service lockers. The lockers are located inside the vault but separated from the cash portion of the vault by cement walls. The self-service locker section of the vault is open during regular business hours, and a member can simply walk into the vault by himself and open his own box using his own key; no separate employee key is necessary.

"We still have safe deposit boxes at our other locations, but some of our members who previously had a safe deposit box at one facility have moved over to the self-service lockers. In fact, I'm one of them," Rissell noted. "We are one of the first that have been insured to do it this way. There are a number of security protocols that you have to have in place. The lockers must be within a vault, and the vault door is open during office hours. There must be separation between the lockers and the cash. And of course, there's a camera in the vault, so if we see someone in the vault trying a key in every locker, obviously, that's a red flag."

While some people are still more comfortable with the traditional safe deposit boxes and opt to stick with a box at one of FKFCU's other locations, others appreciate the convenience of not having to wait for an employee to become available to help them.

"Like anything else, when you ask a person to accept a change, it's all in how it's presented," Rissell advised. "And the key for us has been in giving them choices. If they still want a traditional safe deposit box, they can go to one of our other branches. If they prefer the traditional teller line to a video teller, they still have that option. If they don't want to apply for a loan over the computer, we've still got the clipboards available. I guess you could say we're trying to be all things to all people."

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