No Members Left Behind; Just An Old Approach

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The management at Community One Federal Credit Union was faced with a quandary-how to address increasing security concerns at its Sahara Avenue branch in an older, rougher part of this booming city, without abandoning long-time members.

The solution: in November 2002, the branch moved two blocks to a newer building and several security upgrades were implemented, including the use of video conferencing technology to replace traditional teller lines.

Larry Palochik, Community One FCU's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the credit union had not suffered any robberies or other specific security problems at the former branch location, but the managers were aware the neighborhood had a higher crime rate than other parts of the city.

"It's a battle," he said. "You want to provide services to members in a place they are used to it, but you want to do it safely."

Another factor in the decision to move was the age of the building at the former location. Palochik said the CU has had a branch there for more than 30 years, but the facility had its shortcomings.

"The air conditioning didn't work sometimes, and there were other problems," he explained. "So we left the older building and moved to a newer shopping center, which fits into our new delivery strategy. The old branch was in an office building. Now, we are in a high-traffic area with a drug store and a grocery store."

The move also allowed the credit union to make other changes designed to improve safety. These include installation of an after- hours ATM inside the building in a well-lit area. Day or night, members must swipe their membership cards to enter the branch, which allows the CU to control access to the premises.

Getting to Know You

Community One is not the first CU to use in-branch video conferencing, but first-time visitors still were a little shocked upon entering the facility to find a wall of machines that looked like ATMs, but had television screens that broadcast an image of the face of an unseen teller.

"Our members are getting used to it, but, at first, it was weird," said Palochik. "People were asking, 'where are the tellers?'"

The branch is not devoid of people, he continued. There is a greeter at the door to address general questions about the changes, plus two member service representatives to assist people in using the video-conferencing machines.

The tellers are in another room, and they and the members can see each other's faces via video cameras and monitors.

Telephones are provided for privacy, and pneumatic tubes are used to ferry all pieces of paper.

"All transactions that are available at a traditional teller line can be done at the video-conference tellers. You can do everything but reach out and grab a teller," said Palochik, who added most members seem to be adjusting to the change.

"With a large number of people, you always will have some who will hate it. I'm sure some choose to use another branch because they would rather be face-to-face with a teller. But, these people live there, and they know the area has crime, so they respect the security aspect."

While some members might rue the loss of personal contact, the $153-million Community One's new branch recently earned a Diamond Award from the CUNA Marketing Council for the design and layout of the branch, plus its marketing pieces.

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