How Can Credit Unions Avoid Becoming Commodities in a Digital World?

⋅ Categories: Branch Insights

Imagine the buyer’s journey for a young renter in today’s market shopping for a mortgage. Their first stop is Google and the search string “best mortgage rates.” 

Will your credit union top that list? 

In an increasingly digital industry, financial services are at risk of becoming commodities. But credit unions have a unique advantage over the competition, and those that build a brand that truly embraces the movement won’t need to be at the top of this list. 

So what is this unique advantage over the big banks topping that list? 


A recent survey by Accenture found that only 29% of Americans trust their bank to look after their long-term financial wellbeing. This is down from 43% only two years earlier. That’s abysmal, and the result of stories like the Wells Fargo account fraud scandal hitting the news. 

It’s critical that you open your community’s eyes to the credit union difference, and one way to do that is to drive relationship-building traffic into your branch. And we’re not talking about small talk while cashing checks, but rather conversations that add value to your members’ financial lives and establish relationships built on trust. 

Driving this type of traffic requires expressing your brand in a way that differentiates you, supporting dynamic problem-solving staff, moving from channel thinking to experiences, and getting creative with your spaces in a way that shifts the purpose from servicing transactions to supporting human connections. 

A brand isn’t just a logo. To be authentic and truly differentiating, it should be a driving purpose. Think Volvo, known for engineering for safety. Their brand is practical, functional, and unique. Reflect on your credit union’s brand in the eyes of the community. Does it really make you stand apart, is it authentic, and does it bring people in the door? 

Empower your staff. Rather than training them to complete tasks, train them on your brand, culture, and mission and give them the tools to solve problems on their own. This shifts interactions from transactional to relationship driven, as the person who a member meets when they walk through the door is a partner in their financial journey. 

Move from channels to experiences. Consumers don’t think in terms of “channel”. They simply say, “I need to go to the Credit Union” and just assume it’s accessible from whatever channel they chose. This is an environment where every interaction is an opportunity to create connections with a member. An interaction that began digitally can be carried out in person – and the experience feels familiar even if the member has never stepped foot in the branch.

Get creative with your spaces. What really ties this all together is your physical branch spaces and the creative ways that you use them. Where you invest is an indication of your priorities, and it’s an opportunity to be seen as part of something bigger. And it also presents an opportunity to draw people in. Attributes that support your community in a brand-centric but non-banking related way can reinforce the reason members choose to bank with you. Many credit unions, such as Chrome or Armco, are investing in community spaces and business incubators open to the public.

CBC Federal Credit Union came up with a brilliant solution: a partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts. The credit union downsized their branch, but instead of moving they took advantage of their large space by partnering with Dunkin’ and sharing a lobby and café area. Their branch is busting with activity and the partnership is bringing in new business. 

These strategies can bring people through your doors and expose them to experiences that give a human face to your credit union and shows them what makes you different. Building this trust will put you at the top of their list, even if your numbers don’t top an online list. 

To learn more, watch our latest video “Driving Branch Traffic in a Digital World.

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