Open Sunday? Members happy, Melina Mercouri likely not.
Time-pressed consumers want to shop, pick up prescriptions, grab some fast food and take care of other chores on their varied schedules. And that has put pressure on financial institutions, including credit unions, to meet those expectations.
In some cases it has meant offering members the option of visiting a branch on Sunday.
The move attracted newspaper coverage for Coastal Federal Credit Union. The article noted it was a significant step in North Carolina, considered a Bible Belt state where business on Sunday has not been common.
Joe Mecca, marketing/advertising manager, explained to Credit Union Times the open on Sunday concept was introduced in March at a few branches, then rolled out in phases to other locations. In some cases construction was needed to provide at least two personal tellers. Today 13 of 15 branches offer Sunday hours. The hours are promoted in television and radio spots.
The key is personal teller machines that allow tellers working from Coastal Federal headquarters in Raleigh to serve multiple branches. Credit union members see a real-time video image of the teller. Checks are scanned, receipts provided and even coins are dispensed.
"It's part of our long-term vision for rolling out personal teller machines, " Mecca said. "Once we had all our branches converted, we decided we were going to take it a step further and add as many hours as we could comfortably do. We conducted focus groups and surveys with our members. They are definitely at ease with video banking. "
Actually, members have had several years to accept the concept. Centralized teller operations even out the workflow so tellers at one branch aren't idle while other locations scurry to keep up with heavy traffic. There are now 40 tellers supporting 60 personal teller machines.
Getting employees to work on Sunday has not been much of a problem, Mecca said. Today, new hires are aware when they sign on that Saturday and Sunday hours may be involved. Sunday activity has grown steadily, with about 400 transactions in recent weeks. Saturdays have recorded about 1,000 transactions.
Community America Credit Union in Kansas opened its first in store branch offering Sunday hours in 1999. Lisa Gunter, chief operation officer, explained that as banks began to exit grocery stores in the late 1990s, Community America seized the opportunity to enter that space and offer Sunday hours- "a great way to extend convenience to our members. We then sought other grocery store partnerships to offer Sunday hours in additional locations. "
Being open on Sundays has been one of the key points highlighted in direct mail and on billboards during the past several years. The message is aimed not only at current members, but at nonmembers considering the credit union.
"Recently we also created a TV ad, 'Mr. Sunday,' that focused exclusively on this differentiator, demonstrating how we were putting Sundays back to work, " Ginter said.
Is it hard to find staff who will work Sunday?
"Not at all, " she responded. "When we hire, we're looking for employees who truly embody an exemplary customer service work ethic so we can stand behind our member-first philosophy. As a result, staffing on Sundays isn't that difficult. We're open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays to provide extra flexibility for our members, but it also provides plenty of time and flexibility for our employees' personal pursuits such as church and family time.
"We rotate our schedule so employees only work an occasional Sunday shift, unless otherwise requested, and they then have time off during the middle of the week. New employees coming from a retail environment appreciate the fewer hours required for Sundays, while those coming from a banking environment have to adjust a bit."
In addition, the credit union does pay time-and-a-half for Sunday to recognize the Sunday effort and retain good talent. It's well worth it, Ginter said.
As for members, she indicated the credit union often hears stories from members reporting that Sunday hours allowed them to get a deposit in on time or access a financial relationship specialist when their regular work week doesn't allow them to visit the credit union during what had been conventional hours. Saturday and Sunday hours also help members who shop for vehicles on weekends and want to arrange financing.
A tip from Ginter: "Members love the convenience, but be sure you plan to offer this type of convenience across your market so all of your members have access. "
While Community America didn't run into significant problems assigning Sunday hours, initial reaction from employees at TruMark Financial Credit Union in Pennsylvania wasn't as positive.
TruMark introduced Saturday in 2001, then expanded to Sunday hours about four years ago. Christian Roach, senior vice president/ member services, recalls the all employee meeting when Sunday hours were announced.
"It wasn't popular, of course. I got to stand on a stage in front of 200 to 250 people and tell them they had to work Sunday. Some people said, 'Why should we have to do this?' The loudest and most vocal was a relatively young person. I asked, 'Do you remember when drugstores were closed on Sundays? When supermarkets were closed on Sundays? When all the shopping malls were closed on Sundays? ' She looked perplexed and asked, 'What are you talking about?'
"Everything has changed. People want to do their nonwork activities when they have the time. We don't want to be unavailable when members need us the most. Many times both spouses are working, and the only time they might be able to get together to do a loan application or settlement might be evenings or weekends. So we opened up all of our branches on Sunday, except our Center City branch which serves for the most part people who work in central Philadelphia rather than those who live there. "
Every Community America employee doesn't work every weekend, but most employees will work weekends at least once a month. Because the Center City branch isn't open, those employees are assigned to other branches on weekends. One or two branch managers work every weekend, and are available by phone call to staff in other branches. At least three employees are assigned to every branch for both dual control and security. Some especially busy branches may have four people. There are part-time employees who prefer to work weekends because during the week they are in school or have some other commitment.
"It's a good time for initial training so new employees can gain experience and confidence. Sunday isn't the busiest day of the week, but there's definitely sufficient transaction volume. We're also part of the shared branching network, and get a lot of members of other credit unions coming to us on Sundays, " Roach said.
"But a challenge is that weekends are a popular time for people to do loan settlements. Part-timers generally have less experience so we like to have more experienced people on hand in case there is an issue with a settlement. It is a bit of a juggling act, " Roach said.
As for members, Sunday hours have grown from a pleasant surprise to an expectation.
He also has some advice for other credit unions. First, look at your marketplace. Is your competition doing it, so consumers expect it? If other financial institutions are closed, will Sunday hours give you a competitive advantage? Some credit unions may prefer to extend their Saturday hours and remain closed Sunday. Start with one branch, perhaps your busiest, and see if there is a need. It may take a few months to assess the results.
Although TruMark didn't promote Sunday hours too heavily, weekends are now a standard part of advertising boilerplate.
"We wanted to make our hours fit people's lives," Roach explained. "We looked at the competition. People have a lot of options. Commerce Bank had Sunday hours. Citizens Bank had Sunday hours. There were other banks that had Sunday hours either in specific locations or supermarket locations. It was rapidly becoming a norm for the marketplace."
Just as credit unions adjust their hours to meet customer expectations, many business members are also expanding their hours. TruMark has encountered positive response from business members who like the idea of being able to access a financial institution on weekends.