In my last SharediDiz blog article, I just had to admit it: I’ve always been a branch hater. When I need to get something done, visiting a branch has always been the absolute last resort.
But maybe I was being a little harsh. A lot of people still like branches. They can make people feel more connected and safer, and that’s important too. Even with online account opening, branches are still important to membership growth. Members like having an actual place with actual people where they can get answers and assistance.
But here’s a Big Idea: what if that place was … all over the place?
Moving branches closer to members
Of course, making branches mobile isn’t a new idea. After all, the concept behind the hot dog cart dates back to ancient Greece.
What is new is the impending convergence of several technical and social factors that are going to make mobile branches much more possible, very practical, and far more capable in the next few years.
Even in cities, cell networks don’t have stable, high-speed data connections everywhere. But within a year or so, StarLink’s satellite internet connections will cover all or most of North America, and soon after that the entire globe.
It’s going to revolutionize life in thousands of rural and underserved communities across the US. It’s a big country; what if you could send a fully functional mobile branch anywhere, with no worries about connectivity for real-time transactions?
Bigger Electric Vehicles
Sure fancy-schmancy electric luxury cars got the EV ball rolling. But the next big EV revolution is working vehicles.
Rivian, for one, is set to start selling electric pickups and SUVs soon, but they’re also in the process of building a gigantic factory to fill Amazon’s first order of 100,000 electric delivery vans. Plenty of room in there for a mobile branch, right?
Or take a look at Canoo’s electric car; it doesn’t take much imagination to turn that rolling living room into an office.
And you just know someone’s going to build some sort of folding metal robot popup in the back of a Tesla Cybertruck, or maybe in a trailer. The first credit union to do this will officially become the Coolest CU on Planet Earth.
Plus, the batteries in an EV can easily power all the equipment and lighting a mobile branch needs without a generator, and with plenty of range left over to reach your most remote members.
The App Age
More than ever, people are used to getting their daily necessities (and frivolities) delivered to their doorstep. With a mobile branch, you could deliver full service to your members one at a time. Imagine an app or website that lets members schedule a visit when the mobile branch is in their neighborhood, with a little map that shows you when it’s getting close.
Or, take a cue from food trucks, and park in predictable spots on certain days. Need an AwesomeCU Branch? Load up the app to see a map showing the nearest one, or book an appointment and it’ll drop by your office this afternoon.
It’s really about serving more people better.
Fleets of electric mobile branches connected to space sure do sound cool and techy, and you’d score big green points for your CU’s brand and maybe get on the evening news. But is that the only point?
Of course not.
The deepest roots of credit unions are in serving people and communities who need them most.
Depending on how you count them, around 25 – 30% of US households are “unbanked” or “underbanked”, meaning they don’t have even basic accounts, or they’re using “alternate providers” like payday lending, rent-to-own, pawn shops, etc.
There are plenty of reasons for this, but one big one is just plain physical availability; there are lots of “banking deserts” in the US where there’s simply no place within a reasonable distance to open an account or take care of everyday transactions.
There are also quite a few banking deserts in cities in low-income neighborhoods, where people have to depend on high-cost or predatory options for basic necessities. Maybe postal credit unions could help figure out how to put mobile branches at all of the Post Offices in these neighborhoods and towns?
Mobile branches could be a powerful way to bridge these gaps, to reach members in rural towns or underserved areas in cities. And they could also be a powerful driver of membership growth. Instead of being visible and present in just one neighborhood, your branch could be visible and present in dozens of communities every week.