How Physical Branches Can Thrive in a Digital World

by Tim Klatt, Director of Retail Strategies & Head of Vivalociti

As featured in CU Insight, July 2023:

Throughout their history, credit unions have excelled in providing personalized, relationship-based services within their local brick and mortar locations. As society has adopted a digital economy, these same credit unions have continued to meet the member where they are by providing online banking services. In adding these technology-based channels, some credit unions have inadvertently lost personal touch. As the industry continues to evolve, it is critical to re-engage the member at a personal level while still providing the convenience of online channels.

Bridging the gap between high-tech and high-touch can be achieved by leveraging technology that facilitates high-quality, personalized interactions. To be successful, credit unions need to integrate technology in a way that enhances their brand, delivers personalized service to their members and empowers employees to connect with the member. It is not simply installing screens blandly showcasing your most recent auto loan rate, or using ITMs in your branches, it must serve a purpose and be personalized. What appeals to seniors versus the twenty-somethings can be quite different.

So, what is the right kind of in-branch technology to focus on? And how do you gain leadership and board approval for the investment?


Before budget allocations for technology are made, credit unions should leverage community and demographic insights from third-party experts to determine what their members care about. There is something unique about your credit unions and a reason your members chose you – learn it, embrace it and broadcast it. This analysis should seek to understand the microcosm of each credit union, including:

  1. Age groups: Understanding the age group of target members can help identify the technology trends that are most relevant to them. Such as, younger members are looking for similar conveniences within a branch as they find online.
  2. Location: The location of the members can help identify the technology trends that are most popular in that area. For example, members in urban areas may be more interested in ITMs, while members in small towns may prefer the camaraderie associated with transactions within their local credit union.
  3. Income level: Understanding the income level of members can help identify services that are most affordable for them. For instance, members with lower incomes may be more interested in budgeting, while members with higher incomes may prefer investment management tools.
  4. Lifestyle: Across income and age spectrums, members develop preferences for a certain lifestyle. Understanding these preferences can help focus communication with your target audience, making it easier to connect to them with messaging, and imagery.
  5. Direct feedback: Soliciting feedback from members (and non-members, too!) can provide valuable insights. Credit unions can use surveys and focus groups to identify members’ level of engagement within your branch and poll members on what technology they wish to see.

By leveraging these insights, credit unions can identify the technology trends that are most relevant to their members and make informed investment decisions that meet their needs.

However, members are not the only group that benefit from technology, existing employees will too.


Technology increases efficiency, but it doesn’t have to replace the personal touch of banking; in fact, when done right you can be both high-touch and high-tech. Technology can supplement staff to guide individuals and families through significant moments and day-to-day needs.

Improved Customer Service: Customer relationship management (CRM) systems and data analytics can provide staff with real-time member information, enabling them to offer more personalized services. This can help build stronger relationships with members and improve their overall satisfaction with your credit union. In fact, 78% of members indicate they are looking for a more consultative experience instead of transactional.

Reduced (Perceived) Wait Times: Technology such as digital signage, self-service kiosks, and mobile banking apps can help reduce the perception of wait times in branches. Members can access information and complete transactions more quickly, reducing the overall number of members waiting in line.


The financial industry is at a critical juncture facing tough competition from market disruptors in the race for members’ attention. Thus, it is imperative to contemplate intelligent and effective strategies to boost growth. Our recommended approach focuses on integrating and enhancing technology in three areas:


What do you think your members feel when they walk through your doors? Research shows that we have 7 seconds to capture the attention of members. So, how can this moment in time be utilized best?

High Resolution Digital Displays:

Digital monitors display dynamic content, such as promotional offers, educational videos, and financial news, enhancing the member experience and keeping members engaged during idle moments.

Similarly, digital monitors can display real-time data, such as exchange rates, stock prices, and interest rates, which can help members make informed financial decisions. Digital monitors can also display real-time information about wait times, queue lengths, and service availability, which can help manage member expectations.

Customer Lounge Area:

Many financial institutions dedicate areas for customers to lounge. Desks with touchscreens or mounted iPads enable easy accessibility to your financial app and website, and other various web applications. Specialized areas with branded games on touchscreen displays is a fun way to entertain children while their parents or guardians are making a transaction.

Informative Applications:

Entertaining members with interactive content that supports financial literacy is a creative way to engage those waiting in your lobby while simultaneously collecting data for personalized member services.


Guessing what your members’ needs are can be similar to walking around with a blindfold; you’re never sure where you stand and the next step could very well be a risk. Today, knowing your member is less of a luxury and more of a requirement, and technology has made it possible to achieve.

You may be wondering what kind of data can be gleaned from a branch to grow brand affinity. Most credit unions are ripe with opportunity to mine their member data through the following techniques:

Market and Brand Health Analytics: By prioritizing an market studies, your credit union can provide unique content deployments to serve markets in rural and urban communities that each had substantial socioeconomic variances.

Environmental Engagement: Sensors and beacon technology capture the data you need to drive content decisions and unlock powerful business intelligence. These intelligent sensors allow credit unions to obtain demographic information about people coming in and out of their branch space. This gives the opportunity to serve members content that is relevant to them, increasing overall satisfaction, engagement and increasing your wallet share.

Building Analytics and Automation: Adjusting your environmental settings with smart technology can have great ROI. Learning from employee and member usage in your space, you can increase efficiency and impact with office usage, capacity planning, climate control, and electricity needs.

Automation has made a large impact since the COVID-19 shut down, and the migration to work from home. Analytics have helped inform employers about capacity needs, giving them the chance to reconsider their office arrangements and to invest in hoteling systems instead of permanent office spaces.

CRM & Dynamic Content Integration: Enabling facial detection software and video cameras with your digital displays unlocks the ability to segment content in real time based on age, gender, mood, and even make of car (think ATM advertising!). With this information, your content will automatically change for each member based on their individual characteristics. It’s also imperative to note that this information is securely procured, and never captures any personally identifiable information (PII).


We’ve discussed experiential and data as two components to engaging your members; but what it really boils down to is the content. With relevant content, your displays and member experience comes alive.

Content can be difficult to keep up with, so a vetted plan determining the “who, what, and where” of your messaging will be critical:

WHO: Who, in this scenario, refers to the team or person responsible for the development of the strategy and design of the content. Larger institutions likely have the convenience of an on-site team dedicated to this service. Smaller institutions may benefit from an outside source that specializes in developing content for the financial sector.

WHAT: In order to promote new business and showcase your community values, a blend of lifestyle and promotional messaging is recommended. For example, a financial institution in the Midwest featured images of locations around their community woven in with branded graphics and their logo. It positioned their branch as a committed and loyal by using eye-catching video proudly displayed where customers interacted. Closer to the teller lines, displays featured promotional offerings such as their free checking and low auto loan rates. The promotional messaging was placed in high-traffic areas at eye level where dwell time was determined to be high.

WHERE: We established that to take an informed approach to the placement of digital displays, research within the branch should be considered to determine where customers congregate. However, displays can be installed just about anywhere, and the installations that really move the needle use creativity in how they are applied to the space while communicating the values of the institution.

In conclusion, the integration of technology in physical branches is not just about keeping up with the digital world; it’s about enhancing the member experience and building strong relationships. Understanding the specific needs and preferences of different age groups, locations, and income levels through research and member feedback is crucial in making informed investment decisions. Moreover, incorporating operational technology can improve member service, reduce wait times, and empower employees to provide personalized and efficient service. By focusing on experiential, data, and content aspects, credit unions can truly thrive in a digital world while maintaining their high-touch approach and delivering exceptional value to their members.

For a comprehensive report on how to bridge the gap between physical branches and the digital world download our expertly informed whitepaper here.