Message from the CEO
Hello, credit union family! My name is Larry Seidl, and I am your President/CEO at Smart Financial.
As you know, we made some big changes to several of our branches over the past couple of years. I am referring to the installations of our Video Teller Machines, or Teller 2.0, which have replaced the traditional teller lines in our express branch locations. We understand that change is difficult and new technology can be a daunting prospect, especially for long-time members who have built solid relationships with staff over the years. We want to thank those who have reached out to let us know that you’ve embraced the new technology - we think it’s exciting too! But for those of you who have expressed concerns over the loss of personalized service in your branch, I would like to provide information about some of the decisions behind the changes and illustrate how Teller 2.0 is very similar to our traditional teller lines; with the same tellers, doing the same transactions, and working to create that same experience.
With consumers’ increasing demand for new technology, always seeking easier ways to handle day-to-day transactions, we reviewed our own strategy and began to pose questions about our branch strategy. What does the future hold for physical branches? How should they be designed to best meet our members’ needs? And most importantly, what is their relevance in 2019 and beyond? And while we recognize that branches are still significant elements of the member experience, they hold a slightly different purpose today. The inevitable melding of people and technology, based on today’s consumer behavior, has begun to shape our overall strategy. We can’t have one without the other. As a result, all new branches have become smaller, as less branch staff is needed with the steady reduction of cash handling operations. Almost all banking transactions can be completed through digital channels today – specifically mobile deposits, loan applications, loan payments, bill payments and account transfers. The purpose of the modern branch is no longer focused on conducting daily transactions, but rather serves as a relationship builder, with the primary purpose of educating and assisting member-owners with everyday financial needs.
While digital banking trends continue to make their mark across the financial industry, it was our own member behavior that proved to be the largest catalyst in the decision to transform our branches. In 2018, we saw 31% less transactions at our branches as compared to 2015 transactions. This is a direct result of increased usage of self-service digital channels for routine transactions. Because of these trends, we made considerable efforts to expand our digital capabilities, resulting in our new online banking platform and the latest Video Teller technology. Teller 2.0 provides a cost effective way to deliver personalized, face-to-face service to members. This cost efficiency results from a reduced need for cash vaults and underutilized staff during non-peak hours. So how do these savings benefit our members? With the cost savings over time, we are able to provide our members with additional benefits, such as better rates and more locations. Specifically, the efficiency and cost savings provided by Teller 2.0 has allowed us to expand our branch locations to include Pearland, Missouri City, Westchase, and most recently, the Katy-Fulshear area.
In response to your concerns about the loss of human element in our express branches, remember that personal bankers continue to be available to help assist members. But most importantly, our e-Tellers are real tellers. The only difference is that our e-Teller team is centrally located at our corporate office in Houston where they are capable of providing real-time service to member-owners where needed most across our organization. Also, we are now able to provide the same level of service to our Hispanic community with our centrally-located bilingual tellers. There has been very kind concern from members who have developed relationships with branch staff over the years. I want to ensure those members that none of these amazing tellers have lost their jobs throughout the transitions to our new technology.
Whereas Teller 2.0 transactions are essentially more private due to optional handset and private messaging features, I cannot fail to mention what is perhaps the most important feature - safety. The safety of our members and staff is our most imminent priority. Cash drawers and vaults are no longer needed, making our new express branches much less likely to be a target of robbery. According to the Department of Justice, there were 3,937 U.S. bank robberies in 2017. While 96% of these robberies occurred at the teller counter, only 2% occurred at a teller machine. We care about the safety of our staff and member-owners above anything else! Therefore we are committed to providing a much safer, equally personal, banking experience. We agree that people will always surpass technology, and Teller 2.0 is only successful because of the amazing e-Tellers that grace our screens. We are confident that an increased familiarity with this new technology over time, combined with the support of your amazing branch teams, will only deepen member-owner relationships and improve your experience with us!
Lastly, please keep in mind that we still have several “traditional” branches available for members who prefer to complete their transactions in a traditional teller line. This includes our Newcastle, Sugar Land, Conroe and North Loop branches. Although we also offer Teller 2.0 services at the traditional branches, we have no immediate plans to remove the traditional teller line from these locations. We appreciate the opportunity to serve your financial needs and look forward to building lasting relationships, one member-owner at a time.