Why Humans Are The Key To Technology At PEFCU

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The surge in electronic transactions at Purdue Employees' Federal Credit Union (PEFCU) can be attributed in part to the year-old, "McDonald's-like" branding of its technology and five "retail outlets," according to Amy Keith, special projects manager of systems technology at the credit union.

"When you're in PEFCU, there's no mistake about it," Keith told an audience of credit union IT managers the CUNA Technology Council conference here. "We took our retail space and our technology and we branded it. All of our branches have a savvy, consistent retail 'look,' regardless of square footage, and our technology is unified."

Since its retail branch prototype opened in May 2001, the West Lafayette, Ind.-based CU has seen bill pay transactions shoot up by 226%-consistent with a Seattle, Wash.-based Weber Marketing Group study that reports consumers are ready for bill pay.

And online banking transactions are up by 45%. All in all, lower-cost electronic transactions now make up 86% of all transactions at the 60,000-member CU, up from about 80% last year.

The secret is that while PEFCU's electronic channels take center stage at branches, member service representatives closely support the technology. In addition, branch and technology consistency make the electronics easy to find and use upon subsequent visits.

"When you walk into one of our branches, the first thing you're going to see is our electronics," said Keith. "Then you're going to see a personal service assistant, and then you'll see a video teller." Kiosks, tellers and marketing champion the PEFCU brand.

Members perplexed by the online banking options or the biometric log-in kiosks at the front of all branches are assisted by representatives, who walk the branch greeting members. In addition, greeting centers front each branch.

Showing members the tech ropes feeds the $350-million CU's electronic transaction volume, Keith said. "Representatives have to be able to see if a member is uncomfortable with electronics and answer tech questions in order for members to continue using the electronics."

Finally, in the background are video stations with live, remote tellers dispensing cash.

"We didn't want our members to see our tellers running check tapes or night deposits, and we wanted to create a secure environment for cash transactions."

At the same time, the remote video tellers balance out the extremes between electronic and human service.

Asked by a CU manager in attendance about the expense of transforming PEFCU's branches into retail outlets with branded technologies, Keith answered, "The project is very expensive, and it's a commitment across the organization that started with senior management."

Though Keith wouldn't report expense figures, she said the project came out at "very over $1-million."

The increase in capital investment was partially accommodated by a decrease in head count, Keith added.

Goal: Raise Balances

PEFCU, with a tech groove well cut even before the branding effort, realized it needed to clean up its act in order to interest members in more than just transactional business.

"We wanted to raise our average share balance," Keith explained. "Many members aren't real credit union believers. They just want a professional setting in which to do business."

Though Keith did not report figures, she said PEFCU has seen an increase in average share balance since the retail prototype opened.

Standardizing and branding "was a bit of a change for us on the tech side," Keith continued. "In the past, we didn't always take the time to make sure that our technologies fit or look right, and the branches were a mess. We'd have one thing at one branch and not the other. We needed the tech to be unified, because it makes it easier for the member to use."

Last year, Gail Koehler, PEFCU's VP of technology and retail delivery, told The CU Journal that electronic transaction volume is also spurred by a member incentive program.

PEFCU is not alone in standardizing its retail space. Washington Mutual Bank branches, for example, can be compared to The Gap clothing stores, with headset-adorned representatives wearing branded clothing.

"You walk into Washington Mutual and they sell every darn product under the sun to you and get you to use the new technology," said Mark Weber, president of Weber Marketing Group and fellow Branch Retail Delivery speaker. PEFCU contracted with Weber's consulting services for its retail transformation.

"When you're in Washington Mutual, you don't even know you're in a teller line," Weber added. "It's a tightly trained model that's run like a play."

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