Bringing Universal Banking to Puerto Rico

How cooperative banks are organized and deliver on customer experience can provide new opportunities for growth in a difficult economy.

In mid-August, Fernando J. Ortiz, Regional Account Manager for Glory and Eduardo Alvarez, Adrenaline’s Managing Director of Strategy, partnered to speak to the executives of Puerto Rican cooperative banks at the Asociacion de Ejecutivos de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico held in the  Dominican Republic. Though Puerto Rico’s cooperative banks are similar to U.S. credit unions, they face a unique challenge operating in a difficult economic environment from $73 billion in national debt. In the midst of this crisis, cooperative banks are looking for new opportunities in the long and short-term. With this in mind, the theme of the conference was focused on finding new areas of growth. “These co-op banks need to find new ways of enticing customers to use them as their primary bank,” according to Eduardo, “and to do so, they need to think about what their customers want.”

To weather the economic storm and encourage account openings, Puerto Rican banks should focus on developing and implementing a Universal Experience. Customers in Puerto Rico are more likely to have accounts at multiple banks, including at both co-ops and commercial banks. While more and more customers are banking online, one-third of customers prefer banking in person, and two-thirds want to open accounts in person. Since digital banking has become incredibly convenient, co-op banks can gain a competitive edge by learning from digital and streamlining their in-branch experience.

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In Eduardo’s words, “First, you design the experience. Second, you integrate technology to make your branch as automated as possible. Finally, once you have implemented both the technology and created the space, you can create a culture for your employees to deliver on that customer experience.” A friendly, welcoming culture that shows in all aspects of a banking experience makes customers more likely to choose your branch. In the top-20 U.S. cities, for example, branch usage is actually increasing anywhere from 2% to 17% over the last five years, according to Citi Research. These cities are usually home to more innovative branch experiences and are valuable testing grounds for newer branch and banking approaches.

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In order to stay afloat, co-op banks in Puerto Rico should be rethinking the way customers experience their bank. This can be done by automating the simple aspects of the banking experience, as well as creating a more open, engaging space for employees and customers to meaningfully interact. “Customers need to feel comfortable at your branch. Every aspect of your brand should be seamless, convenient, and part of the same whole,” says Eduardo. This includes not just your branch, but mobile apps, your website, and even ATMs. If co-op banks in Puerto Rico manage to master the Universal Banking experience, they’ll be at the cutting-edge of branch banking, introducing innovation and growth to Puerto Rico’s banking industry.

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