Magazine article American Banker

Creature Comforts Added to Credit Union Branches

Magazine article American Banker

Creature Comforts Added to Credit Union Branches

Article excerpt

Now even credit unions are looking suspiciously like cybercafes and living rooms.

Catching on to a concept that has grown increasingly popular among commercial banks, University of Wisconsin Credit Union is redesigning its branches to include coffee bars, fireplaces, and stock trading kiosks.

The changes are meant to put an updated face on the credit union and prevent its student members from bolting for regular banks after they graduate.

"Branding is something that credit unions are looking at as a way to distinguish themselves," said Fred R. Becker Jr., president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, a Washington trade association with 1,000 members.

Once restricted to specific groups who qualified for membership based on a common affiliation, many credit unions are enjoying more relaxed rules that allow them to target business within defined geographic parameters as well. University of Wisconsin Credit Union, for example, is open not only to the school's students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but to those who live within five miles of its branches.

Charlene Stern, president of Stern Marketing, a San Francisco-area consulting firm, said the credit union wanted to be more appealing to compete with commercial banks. She refers to the approach as "financial retailing."

The former Wells Fargo & Co. retail executive said the idea is catching on. "Credit unions are starting to wake up and flex their competitive muscles," she said. …

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