Bank Watch

Here’s a look at Sharonview Federal Credit Union’s ‘tech bar’

Above is some video I took last week during a reception for Sharonview Federal Credit Union’s new Gastonia branch, which represents yet another example of banks and credit unions shifting away from traditional teller counters.

Instead of your typical teller counter, the branch features a “tech bar” – a pecan wood table outfitted with a laptop computer and tablet devices on which customers can conduct transactions on their own. Credit union staff is available to help customers, though, if they need assistance with transactions.

The branch opened last month. For Sharonview, it’s the first time the Fort Mill, S.C.-based credit union has opened a branch without a normal teller counter.

But it reflects a national trend in which some banks are shrinking teller counters or going teller-free in branches as more customers bank on their smartphones and other devices.

Sharonview CEO Bill Partin, speaking to me during the reception, said the credit union plans to follow the Gastonia model (smaller branches, no traditional teller counters) when it opens future branches.

The credit union also plans to follow the Gastonia model as it relocates and renovates branches in the coming years across its three-state footprint of North and South Carolina and New Jersey, Partin said.

While some banks have faced criticism for cutting back on teller counters, Partin said Sharonview’s tech bar allows the branch’s staff to spend less time on transactions “and more time on interactions,” such as assisting people looking for a home or auto loan.

“What we don’t want to be is a check-cashing facility,” Partin said.

If a customer wants to cash a check, they can do so at an automated teller machine inside the branch.

Here are some other takeaways from my discussion with him:

Video ATMs planned

Partin said Sharonview is planning to go live with ATMs that will allow its “members” (credit union parlance for customers) to speak to a teller on a video screen.

The tellers will be in a call center, and the feature is not expected to be rolled out until early 2017, he said.

Raleigh-based Coastal Federal Credit Union and Charlotte’s Bank of America have been using such ATMs for years.

Tellers learning to lend

Partin said that as Sharonview does away with teller counters, the people who once worked behind those counters are being taught to lend and handle other duties.

For example, those same employees will be able to open credit cards for the credit union’s members, in addition to being available to assist at the tech bar or ATM, he said.

Such multipurpose bankers, which the industry sometimes refers to as “universal bankers,” are not new. As banks pull back on traditional tellers amid declines in transactions, they are adding bankers who handle a range of tasks, from depositing customers’ checks to helping them get a car loan.

Sharonview, by the way, refers to those bankers as “financial service representatives,” a title it had been using instead of “teller” even before rolling out the Gastonia branch.

More branches planned in Charlotte

Partin said Sharonview is planning to open two to three new branches in Charlotte over the next two years. Locations have not been disclosed.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts