When a branch on Water Street in Manhattan flooded in 2012, McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union saw the damage as an opportunity to get creative.
The branch underwent a transformation, the results of which the East Windsor, N.J., institution revealed in March: a high-tech financial wellness center. Alongside the ATMs and tablet-bearing salespeople, the credit union installed touchscreen kiosks running software meant to inspire people to think about their financial goals.
The wellness center is one of the latest new branch concepts banks are trying as transactions in the channel continue to decline. And the new theme location underscores how institutions are adapting their financial planning content for a tech-savvy world. Wells Fargo, for example, launched a series of interactive websites on credit last month.
Other banks, such as Capital One, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are making available free credit scores to credit card customers while KeyBank announced in March it is publishing financial health scores to interested digital banking customers.
John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com, said there has been strong momentum with banks and nonbanks making free scores available and providing financial educational tools in recent months.
"Don't underestimate the influence of the CFPB for things like this," said Ulzheimer, who took a quiz on Wells' site and passed.
And such initiatives help institutions work to repair reputations that were tarnished during the credit crisis, he said.
Still, getting consumers to participate in financial-related content is typically an uphill battle for any company.
"That is a really hard sell," said Ulzheimer. "People are infinitely more interested in the lineup of who will be in 'Dancing with the Stars.' At the end of the day, you can only lead the horse to water."
On the touchscreens in McGraw-Hill FCU's financial wellness center, people can drag and drop financial goals like "I need a bigger house" as well as hurdles like "I had my car break down" onto a calendar to plot a path to achieving their dreams. Those who use the software will receive email copies of their roadmaps and can, of course, meet with the credit union's personal financial consultants to discuss. They can also view financial educational content on the kiosks.
"It's an interesting PFM tool that we are using to help individuals gain a better understanding of how to plan for the future," said Shawn Gilfedder, chief executive and president of McGraw-Hill FCU.
The visualization aspect also ties into the real estate's physical walls. McGraw-Hill FCU uses a special paint in areas of the branch so consumers can write on the walls with erasable markets to illustrate what their numbers mean.
"What the future looks like for them is a big portion of our job," said Gilfedder.
If the branch concept proves popular with consumers, the institution will expand the model. It will also explore the idea of delivering elements of the financial planning software through its mobile and online banking down the road.
Wells Fargo is marketing its recently launched interactive credit-education websites through various channels, including its ATMs.
The newer content from the San Francisco bank, which teaches about credit subjects in videos, quizzes and infographics, is meant to illustrate how good credit helps consumers' lives in potentially unexpected ways. For instance, it can affect whether they get hired or can buy a cellphone. Wells Fargo said it found consumers had an appetite for such material. In a survey of 3,000 people, more than three quarters of Americans said they wanted to learn more about money management, and more than half said they wanted to get schooled on credit.
Wells Fargo, which lets customers access free credit scores during October each year, and has long published educational content, views its latest effort as a better way to appeal to people on mobile devices. Its newest digital initiative, Path to Good Credit, is meant to engage people on the subject through their smartphones and tablets. Such devices require more compelling content than dense blocks of text of lists of links.
Financial health education is a strategic effort for the bank, said Gary Korotzer, executive vice president of the consumer credit solutions group at Wells Fargo. "It's not a hobby."