Walk through any major U.S. city and you're likely to encounter those unmistakable golden arches, or that green, crowned siren, on what seems like every street corner. You'll also stroll past many national banks, whose thousands of branches offer convenience most think is unmatched by credit unions.
In reality, though, credit union members often have just as much access to in-person support as megabank customers, in addition to often better rates and lower fees than at national banks.
The reason? Shared branching.
What is shared branching?
About 1,800 of the country’s 7,000 credit unions belong to the CO-OP Financial Services shared branch network. Members have access to over 5,000 shared branches with locations in all 50 states.
Members can complete most of their regular transactions at the branch as they would at their local credit union. CO-OP Financial Services also has a network of 30,000 fee-free ATMs.
The participating credit unions are home to about half of all credit union members, about 50 million people, says Craig Beach, chief operating officer of CO-OP shared branching.
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What can members do at a shared branch?
You’ll be able to make deposits, withdrawals and transfers between accounts. You can also make loan payments and purchase money orders and traveler’s checks.
You could, however, open these accounts online on your credit union's website and fund them at a shared branch, Beach says.
To complete a transaction at a shared branch, you’ll need to provide a valid, government-issued photo ID, along with your credit union’s name and your account number.
Use the CO-OP locator tool to find out whether your credit union takes part in shared branching. Some credit unions belong to both the CO-OP ATM and shared branch networks, while some participate in just one of the two. Others don’t belong to either network.
» MORE: What is a credit union?
Who benefits from shared branching?
Shared branching is best for people who want to hang on to the benefits of credit unions — strong rates and low fees — without giving up the conveniences offered by big banks, Beach says. The service can be especially useful for people who joined a credit union in a town that they have since moved away from, or that might not be home for long.
Take Kim Van, a small-business owner who joined a credit union while working at Ohio State University. Although Van relocated to Philadelphia a few years ago, she is still a member of the Ohio-based financial institution.
“I use shared branches to deposit physical checks and to make withdrawals from my checking account,” Van says. “My credit union allows mobile deposits, and I use that service, except the daily limits are low.”
Melissa Breau, a digital marketing specialist in Raleigh, North Carolina, relied on shared branching for the same reason.
“I had a Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union account since I was 16 or 17, but when I graduated from college, I moved to New York City, and they didn't have any branches there,” Breau says. “They were part of the shared network, though, so I went to shared branches to make deposits and withdrawals.”
Shared branching boosts convenience
Despite the growth of online and mobile banking, Beach thinks branches will remain popular.
“I’ve got millennials in my house,” Beach says. “They want to do a transaction when they want to do it, how they want to do it and wherever they want to do it. But depending on the complexity of the transaction, they do want to have someone there to talk them through what they’re doing.”