As the COVID-19 crisis swept the country this past spring, some credit union branches were forced to temporarily shut down in an effort to control the spread.
Although many members were able to conduct their financial activities via digital and other remote means, some couldn’t take advantage of these alternatives. They either lacked access to technology or had banking needs that could only be conducted in-person.
For these members, shared branching proved to be a lifeline.
“We never closed our branch at all,” says Rhonda Baggarley, President, Sunset Science Park Federal Credit Union. “We operated out of our drive-thru for a couple of months in mid-March to mid-May, and we still accepted in-branch appointments. We’re hearing we were one of the only credit unions on the west side of Portland [Oregon] that remained open to shared branching members. We hold true to the credit union spirit.”
A Cooperative Spirit
For those credit unions that participate in shared branching, the desire to support the country’s millions of participating Shared Branch members” regardless of where they hold their primary financial relationship, rings loud and clear.
“Credit unions got their start helping people that no one else wanted to help,” says John Pamer, CEO, Diablo Valley Federal Credit Union. “People were frustrated with banks, so they formed cooperatives. Our credit union has been able to live up to the original credit union mission. For example, as the only shared branch in our area, we’ve continued to welcome our members and shared branch guest members. ”
“We know that many people rely on us for access to their accounts and we felt that temporarily switching off shared branching would make a difficult situation worse for them.” – John Pamer, CEO, Diablo Valley Federal Credit Union
The origins of credit union shared branching go back to the early 1970s in Michigan, when Service Centers Corporation’s SCC Network was born.
Today, CO-OP Shared Branch network continues to embrace the spirit and heart of the credit union movement. Although some branches have adjusted operations due to the pandemic, nearly 5,000 branches across the country remain committed to providing Shared Branch services to millions of members offering modified hours, drive-thru only or without any service changes.
Remaining open as a shared branch, particularly during the pandemic crisis, has not been easy for participating credit unions. At Sunset Science Park, the drive-thru lane was the only option for a period of time. With just one lane open, there were days the line would stretch around the building.
When the branch lobby reopened for business, the credit union placed stickers six feet apart on the lobby floor to maintain social distancing and installed Plexiglas barriers at the teller line to protect its staff.
“At times it took members longer to transact than expected,” Baggarley says, “but our members were very gracious and very seldom did we hear complaints.”
A Wealth of Benefits
Participating in the CO-OP Shared Branch network offers credit unions a number of tangible benefits, including the ability to retain members that have moved away.
“Our out-of-area members definitely use other shared branch locations,” Pamer says. “In addition, we use Sprig (CO-OP’s universal mobile banking app) as our primary mobile deposit application. Members like that Sprig lets you transfer funds between participating credit unions.”
Shared branching also offers participating credit unions the opportunity to retain members and gain incremental revenue in the form of interchange from guest member visits.
Yet the most compelling benefit of all, is the ability to provide all credit union members with access, especially during periods marked by regional disasters or national challenge. Today’s challenges have reinforced that shared branching is a hallmark of the credit union cooperative spirit.
“Access and convenience and credit union cooperation are the primary underlying benefits of the CO-OP Shared Branch network,” says Dr. Kathy Snider, SVP, Group Leader Engage Products at CO-OP. “We have a geographic presence all across the U.S., including Hawaii. As our participants in Puerto Rico continue to get hit with tropical storms, it’s really important. At its heart, it’s the fact that credit unions have access to a nationwide branch network without having to supplement their brick and mortar branches, and members can perform any transaction in a shared branch location they could at their home branch.”
As credit unions continue to grapple with the pandemic crisis, shared branch and ATM networks are serving a vital role in our nation’s recovery. Explore how your credit union can join the CO-OP Shared Branch and CO-OP ATM networks.