The Mississippi Credit Union Association (MCUA) has a shared branching network that many of its member credit unions are utilizing. The concept has been around approximately 10 years nationally and began in Mississippi in 2004.
The association’s vice president, Sonny Green, CPA, compared shared branching to using an automated teller machine (ATM) network. “One way to look at it is that shared branching is a network of human being ATMs,” he said. “Shared branching allows us to be everywhere; allows many more offices. Credit unions can share resources, space and personnel.”
Instead of individual credit unions building brick-and-mortar facilities at a number of locations, they use the facilities of fellow credit unions. That’s a big convenience for members traveling or moving away. They can still do business with their credit unions.
“We call them guest members when they come in,” Green said. “The teller uses a different code for their transactions and can see all the information on the computer screen.”
Guest members can cash checks and make deposits, transfers and payments on loans. They can not open new accounts or apply for new loans. These guests must know the name of their credit union and furnish their account number and a picture ID.
“Our goal is to have every corner of the state covered,” Green said. “Shared branching allows us to be everywhere and allows many more offices.”
Currently, there are 98 credit unions affiliated with the Mississippi Credit Union Association (MCUA), and 18 are sharing their branches. Some seven of every 10 members in Mississippi now have access to shared branching. Three more credit unions in Meridian just signed on and one in Laurel. Green says the association hopes to increase coverage in Vicksburg, Tupelo and on the Gulf Coast. Nationally, more than 2,500 branches are available to members.
“It’s really taking off. It’s taking legs by itself, and one by one they’re coming on board. We have all the major university towns covered, and that’s a great help for parents and students,” he said. “Our goal is to have every single credit union in the state participate.”
Members do not pay a fee to use shared branching services. The network is offered for their convenience. “It’s a huge benefit for members, and was great after Katrina when some of the credit unions in New Orleans were under water,” Green said. “Members could go to other credit unions and transact business. They really saw the value of it then. It’s pretty neat.”
He added that the credit unions love it and don’t have to outlay any capital investment to participate. Therefore, it’s cost effective for them.
At the outset, MCUA officials thought there might be a problem with fraud, but Green says the credit unions have looked out for each other. “If someone seems suspicious, the credit unions call the host credit union,” he said. “I can count on one hand the cases with which we’ve had to get involved.”
The credit unions tell their members about the shared branching network through mailings. “Members had to get their minds around it, and catch on,” Green said. “They have now and we get nothing but positive feedback from it.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.