CHICAGO (12/29/10)--Credit unions, which traditionally have maintained a stronghold on workplace financial services because of their close field-of-membership ties with employers, may see more competition from banks vying for that workplace banking slot. Banks will try this avenue because they "desperately need new customers," according to US Banker's upcoming January issue. They have fee pressure and a need for new revenue, and workplace banking has potential value, an executive at NCBS, a Sun Trust Banks Inc. consulting subsidiary, told the publication. Workplace banking refers to everything from offering free checking accounts to locating branches at the workplace to presenting seminars about financial planning, mortgagees or other financial topics, to having an onsite branch at the employer's location. If that sounds familiar to credit unions, it should. Credit unions cut their teeth on their field of membership bonds with employer-related groups, which became sponsors for many early credit unions. With the trend toward widening fields of membership to community bonds so they can grow, credit unions may find themselves in a banking sprawl on their traditional turf. In fact, credit unions are one of two big reasons why banks haven't been proactive in this area in the past, said the article. "Credit unions are the big one [barrier]: Having grown organically with many big employers, they often enjoy airtight relationships," it added. The second barrier is big banks' centralized management models. Small and mid-size banks will have more success at workplace banking, according to Steven Reider, president of Bancography, a bank consulting firm in Birmingham, Ala. However, KeyCorp has overcome that barrier by dedicating relationship managers at 21 of its districts. As a result, KeyCorp doubled its workplace banking, and boosted its health savings account business. Banks often market their perks to the employees of their commercial clients, but some have moved to marketing toward business clients where they don't do business. For example, in September, Dallas-based Comerica Bank started marketing workplace banking programs to businesses where it doesn't have commercial clients, said the article. Some banks are even putting branches into workplaces. U.S. Bancorp opened its first workplace branch with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati about 12 years ago. Today, it has 45 such branches on site. Although this isn't a huge trend yet, the economic and regulatory factors may converge so that banks look more to this area to grow. And that growth could be at the expense of credit unions.