Is the expansion of bank branches dead? Not at Navy Federal, here’s why

The number of bank branches in the United States has been steadily declining for years. But when it comes to having a physical banking presence, the Navy Federal Credit Union has taken a different approach.

Since at least 2011, the total number of Federal Navy branches has actually increased each year, increasing by more than 55% during that time – with plans to add more in the next few years. In contrast, Bank of America has about 27% fewer branches than nine years earlier, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Navy Federal, which is Bankrate Readers’ Choice 2021 winner for best credit union and one of the best credit unions, has just over half of its 345 branches on or within three miles of a military installation.

“When these service members deploy, we’re almost like a connection to them,” says Richard Allen, vice president of branch operations for the Navy Federal Credit Union.

According to Allen, the surveys sent to federal members of the Navy are part of the process of choosing a new branch location. “We take that feedback into account and then overlay it with the rest of our data.”

Members will soon have a few more options with the opening of new branches in Georgia, Hawaii, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. You will need to have ties to the armed forces, the Department of Defense, the National Guard, or be an immediate family member to open an account.

But the bank must also extend beyond the framework of the branch

With members around the world, Navy Federal must also consider members who will not be near a branch.

“So serving them is really about determining, ‘OK, how do we create a network that ensures their portability?’ “I mean they move around all the time,” Allen said.

Over 70% of Navy Federal Credit Union members use the credit union app or through online banking. But in a typical year, about 50% of federal members of the Navy also visit a branch.

“We’ve found that our members really appreciate a multi-pronged service approach,” says Allen.

The digital-only bank has the lowest satisfaction level, according to the JD Power 2020 US Retail Banking satisfaction survey. So in an age of fewer physical branches, in-person banking is still important.

“This is something we invest in and believe to be essential for our members’ service offerings,” Allen adds.

Questions, high-end transactions, or financial advice are some of the reasons Allen says his members come to a branch. Applications and technology cannot handle all types of transactions or interactions with customers.

But people also love their online banking. Allied Bank, Bankrate’s best online banking and Readers’ Choice winner this year, surpassed $ 100 billion in retail deposits in September 2019. Online banks are popular because they typically offer a higher yield than physical banks. However, Navy Federal offers certain products with competitive returns with online banks.

Branch banking services during the pandemic

Photo courtesy of the Navy Federal Credit Union

Like challenges in retail, banks and credit unions have also changed the way they operate branches in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. At Navy Federal – which does not have drive-thru – express and curbside transactions have become new additions.

“We were serving [customers] outside: walk inside, trade, come back, ”says Allen. “It was a resounding success.”

Navy Federal also employs general-purpose universal bankers. These bankers can be cashiers, but can also help with other types of in-branch customer service. Versatility was needed before the pandemic and is even more important today.

“The goal is for us to be spaced enough apart so that we can maintain social distancing, that we can maximize every space in the branch, and that our member services representatives, which are universal, [can] do everything in the branch, ”says Allen.

Allen says the new branches that will open soon will be different, in large part due to COVID considerations. But the functionality of the branches will not change.

“Two, three, four years later, we’re still going to look at it and say, ‘This is a great design’ because it still allows us to do what our team members do so well in branches,” Allen said.

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