Referrals per credit union advisor are growing.

The average credit union financial advisor is now generating more revenue than the average financial advisor in a large bank that owns its broker-dealer, according to new data from Kehrer Bielan Research & Consulting.

The news comes at a time when many credit unions across the country are transforming their branches into sales and consultation centers rather than teller-dominated transaction centers.

“This is the first time in the three years we have conducted the study that average financial advisor productivity in our annual benchmarking survey of investment services in credit unions has exceeded average productivity in our comparable survey of large bank BDs,” Kehrer Bielan Senior Research Analyst Tim Kehrer said.

The research firm found that the average financial advisor working in a credit union produced $444,873 in investment services revenue in 2014, compared with $440,073 for the average advisor in a large bank BD.

Gross investment services revenue per credit union advisor rose by 16% from 2013 to 2014; for advisors at bank-owned broker dealers, that number was just 6%, the study also said.

“Although unprecedented, we could have seen this coming,” Kehrer said. “Average financial advisor productivity in our annual survey of credit unions has improved three years in a row, increasing by 27% since 2012 and outpacing productivity growth in our survey of large banks.”

One of the keys to high production is referrals, the study found. The average number of referrals per credit union advisor rose by a whopping 41% year over year, and credit unions in the top quartile of financial advisor productivity provided 19% more referrals relative to their size than credit unions with less productive advisors.

“On the other hand, the typical credit union referred just 1.5% of its member households to the institution’s advisors during 2014, down slightly from the average referral penetration in last year’s survey,” Dr. Kenneth Kehrer added. “The fact that the percent of member households referred to advisors declined over the past year at the same time that referrals per advisor increased suggests that the number of advisors is not keeping up with the growth in membership.”

The average credit union provides one financial advisor for every 20,457 member households – 9% more households per advisor than in 2013, the study said.

The research used data from 917 credit unions with investment services offerings and an in-depth survey of 46 credit unions. Kehrer Bielan compared their performance to a separate survey of 17 large banks that own their own broker-dealers.

A bank or credit union advisor will produce more than $12 million in revenue during the course of a 20-year career, with annual production increasing each year, Kehrer Bielan found in another study.

— Check out 12 Best & Worst Broker-Dealers: Q2 Earnings, 2015 on ThinkAdvisor.