Fresh off obtaining a national charter, Littleton, Massachusetts-based Workers Credit Union is gearing up for an expansion of its branch network.
The $2 billion-asset credit union gained a national charter in January and opened three new branches amid the pandemic. It now aims to expand into New Hampshire this year as it pursues a growth strategy that includes new in-branch technology.
The credit union opened its newest location in Lowell, Massachusetts in March, a 3,400-square-foot branch with features that include an interactive hologram and video ATM.
While the use of a hologram may sound unusual for a financial institution, Workers Credit Union Chief Banking Officer Peter Rice said the technology is in line with the credit union's mission to promote financial wellness among its members.
"We're about battling shame and stigma, and the shame and stigma associated with money," Rice said.
The branch's interactive technology, as well as its in-person staff, who are all certified financial coaches, are meant to help members open up and feel comfortable talking about money, Rice said.
"If we think about everything else we do in our hyper-competitive society — you send your kids to sports camps, they go learn football, they learn how to swim, they learn lacrosse. They go to the most competitive universities of the world, but nobody ever teaches anybody about money," Rice said.
The 110,000-member credit union calls its enhanced branches "PlanIt" locations. So far, three branches, including the latest Lowell branch, are outfitted with the new design. Each PlanIt branch features an interactive hologram named "Olivia," who can speak several languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese and American Sign Language, the credit union said.
The PlanIt branches are designed to eliminate social and physical barriers, Rice said. Each location features private spaces for members to participate in Workers Way, a free, personalized financial coaching program that aims to provide information and support for members' financial milestones, both positive and negative, Rice said.
"There are huge gaps in the financial services industries for people who are going through some of the major challenges in life," Rice said. "We tend to post the more positive ones, like our son's getting married or going to college, but what about these huge life challenging moments?"
The credit union plans to launch a bereavement service in the next few months, which Rice said will help members navigate the financial steps that come with burying a loved one.
Workers plans to open another PlanIt branch in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and convert its remaining 14 branches to the PlanIt design by the end of the year, the credit union said.
As many financial institutions around the country work to consolidate their branch networks, some credit unions are doing the opposite. Now that it has a national charter, Workers plans to expand into New Hampshire in the coming months, Rice said.
Navy Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in the country, said it plans to open eight new branches this year as it forges ahead with a philosophy that its members will always want a physical place to go for their financial needs.
Rice said his credit union shares that belief.
"The big debate for the financial industry is, do we go completely digital or do we maintain brick-and-mortar?" Rice said. "Technology takes the friction out of banking, but it's people who transform lives. So I still think, given the topic of financial wellness and really what that involves over the long run, there's still going to be a physical element. ... We plan to continue building branches."