Credit union tears out teller line, goes digital
The credit union on the Kanawha City end of the 35th Street Bridge no longer has a teller line.
It is being replaced with iPads, a cafe and a transaction center.
"We're using technology to make things more personal by eliminating as much cumbersome entry-data work as possible and allowing our personnel to focus on our members," said Linda Bodie, the credit union's chief executive officer.
"We're saying, 'Let's make the transaction process as simple as possible and let's have a conversation because that's what this is all about."
The entire financial institution has gone digital.
To celebrate, the West Virginia United Federal Credit Union is remodeling its building and has changed its name to Element Federal Credit Union. A new logo emphasizes the "me" in "Element."
"I think people assume that a financial transaction has to be complicated, a long process," said Bodie. "I personally care about the environment, about efficiencies and about the members, and I want that translated to this business.
"Paper is inefficient. It's a pain. It gets lost. We decided to digitize everything possible, to make things easier. It seemed better for the environment, for the employees. Over time we've developed as much green technology as we can."
One outcome of this philosophy is the "Element Kiosk," a touch-screen menu that allows credit union members to conduct business online from anywhere Internet access is available.
The credit union is careful to verify a member's identity, so the electronic auto loan application, for example, asks for a few details that are necessary so the credit union's staff can pull a credit report. But it is all quick, easy - and paperless. If the staff needs a photo of the member, even that is easily done by having the member snap a photo and send it using his or her iPad, smart phone or laptop.
"Often the reaction is, 'Is that all I have to do?' " Bodie said. "Members say, 'That's it?' We get that a lot. It's our 'wow factor.'"
One of the keys has been carefully thinking through what information is really necessary for a secure transaction.
"We're not going to ask you to fill out the same form 100 times," Bodie said. "We're using technology to build on personal relationships. We're not using technology to replace the person.
"We were the first institution in the entire world to develop a remote deposit capture application for the iPhone. It's called iDeposit. That was in 2009. We received some national recognition from credit union organizations. We didn't know we made history."
In June Bodie was invited to the Iowa Credit Union Innovation Summit in Des Moines. "That was a treat for me as well as for them, to have somebody from West Virginia go to demonstrate and talk about what's been done. It was a great experience."
Element Federal has 11 full-time employees and one part-time employee. Bodie said she also works a lot virtually - that is to say, using electronic devices - with "a geeky programmer" in Huntington, Stephan Looney.
"I say, 'I have an idea that would be cool. Can we do this?' and he says, 'Yes!' and he finds a way to do it."
"We want this to be the best institution it can be," she said. "I take personal responsibility, personal pride in everything that happens here. I love my job. So the in-branch experience is being transformed to match our philosophy.
"By breaking down the teller line, we're getting to the real conversation. If you want to sit in the cafe and have coffee and discuss your loan, if there's no one else there - we respect your privacy - we can have the discussion there.
"If you want cash back and a coffee, you can sit in the cafe, enter your request in the Element Kiosk and one of our staff will bring the cash to you."
The fact is, none of the co-operative's 4,700 members ever need to step foot in the office if they don't want to, Bodie said. And "if the Division of Motor Vehicles would just digitize vehicle titles, then we could say, 'There is no paper.' "
Some of the emphasis on electronic transactions is rooted in the fact that the institution was originally established to serve employees of the state Department of Health and Human Resources and their families.
The DHHR has about 5,700 employees. Although many work in the Diamond Building and at One Davis Square in downtown Charleston, there are DHHR employees working in communities all across the state.
Because it has been designated as serving a low-income area, any resident of Kanawha County can join Element Federal.
The credit union has two offices. One is in the Diamond Building. The other is at 3418 MacCorkle Ave. S.E., in the building that contained Risk's Market and then the Hot Spot Lounge and Cafe. The Hot Spot closed in 2005. The credit union bought the property in 2008 and remodeled it.
RC General Contractors of Charleston is performing the remodeling that is now under way.
Bodie said 40 percent of the credit union's transaction volume is done at its Diamond Building office and 60 percent is done at the Kanawha City office.
The credit union is gaining about 70 to 80 new members a month.
"I attribute that to word of mouth," she said. Also, when the office at the end of the 35th Street Bridge opened, "it really propelled us in our membership growth."
Members were sent letters last week explaining the changes. Monday was the official date of the name change. The credit union's old website is at www.wvunited.org/. The new website is at www.elementfcu.org/.
Contact writer George Hohmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4836.