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Philosophy drives shared branching success
MADISON, Wis. (8/25/14)--Shared branching: It may be the most distinctive feature of cooperative credit unions, but one of the least understood--at least until you need it.
Click to view larger imageOn the front page of its website, San Francisco FCU displays the breadth of its service to members through the shared branch network. (San Francisco FCU graphic)
It allows a member from one credit union to make financial transactions--cash checks, deposit funds, make a loan payment--at another credit union that is part of the shared branch network--currently more than 5,300 physical branches and another 2,000-plus self-service locations.
Shared branching is something only the credit union movement could do, said Sarah Canepa Bang, chief strategy officer for CO-OP Shared Branching, a business line of CO-OP Financial Services.
It's a service born of the idea that "I'm willing to trust you to take care of my members," she told News Now. "Bankers wouldn't even dream of doing something like that."
But how do credit unions educate members about shared branching? "Just tell them," she said. "Reward them with this value that your credit union gives them."
Make sure staff and call centers can tell members where to find a shared branch, either directing them to a website, an app or other location that will make it clear they can access credit union services elsewhere.
More than 50% of members know the premise of shared branching. "Once people need it, though, that's when they will understand it," she said.
The value of shared branching becomes apparent during times of natural disasters--something to consider with National Disaster Preparedness Month coming up in September--and with the 6.1 earthquake that hit the Napa region of California over the weekend.
Just think back to Hurricane Katrina--nearly nine years ago to the day--when displaced credit union members were able to access their accounts even though they were miles away from home. 
Bang said the shared branch network set up special identification policies for members who were without wallets or identification. "Imagine how those members felt when they were able to get $200 from the credit union," she said.
As a parent sending a child off to college, you could search for shared branches located around their school, Bang suggested, so they know how to access funds from their account and from you, without having to open a new account.
With the addition of $154 million-asset Ocean Communities FCU, Biddeford, the shared branch network in Maine now boasts nearly three times as many branches as any single bank in Maine--a fact the Maine Credit Union League recently touted. "Shared branching provides both convenience and service--it's a great combination for credit union members," said league President/CEO John Murphy.
Convenience is something personal to everyone, Bang said. Most people don't want to leave their credit union when they move. "Find out why they are closing the account," Bang advised. "If they are moving, show them where shared branches are located and how you can still be their credit union."
If a credit union is closing a branch, it should let its members know about nearby shared branch locations so they can continue to have access to convenient services, she said.
"You can be a small credit union and still be more convenient than any bank," Bang said.
And to help prove the value of credit union membership to legislators? Bang advised that credit unions know which congressional lawmakers are members and make sure they know that there are two shared branches right within their workplace-- U.S. Senate FCU and Congressional FCU--to serve them.


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