Changing into our work PJs: Maintaining the CU difference even as we distance

By Daragh Fitzpatrick
Client Strategy Consultant, AdvantageEdge Analytics

What follows is the first in CUNA Mutual Group’s new series “8 Minutes with AdvantEdge Analytics,” a collection of eight-minute (or less) reads featuring brief interviews with the firm’s top thinkers on trending topics in the credit union space.

Why did you choose this topic?

The new normal of serving clients remotely has introduced countless challenges to the business environment. One of the most profound difficulties we’re facing as we cope with COVID-19 is delivering human-centric personalized service while also maintaining a safe social distance.

I want to start a dialogue around what it means to maintain close-knit relationships when you can’t look into the eyes or shake the hands of people you want to serve. Going digital certainly has its place, but it can’t be the only strategy.

And, what does “professional” actually look like when everyone’s wearing stretchy pants?

How does this topic hit close to home for you?

I’ve been a consultant for almost my entire career, so maintaining personal relationships remotely is nothing new. Not being able to travel to my clients for an in-person strategy session is more challenging, however. In that way, I can relate to the credit union leaders who are used to deepening member connections through in-person engagements.

It’s been encouraging, inspiring even, to see how well credit unions and their members have adapted to digital means of communicating and transacting. Members who have thus far avoided tools like online banking, virtual teller interaction and touchless / mobile payments are dipping their toes in the water, and if our credit union clients’ experiences are any indication, taking to it like ducks in that very same water.

But, an important question remains: Will serving members remotely today alter the credit union-member relationship forever? Will digital dilute the credit union difference? If I’m leading a credit union, I’m concerned about the potential change in the dynamic between my staff and my members going forward, especially when the oddity and stressors created by the pandemic ironically also offer us a tremendous opportunity to live out our missions in the purest way.

Tell me more. What keeps you up at night?

If credit unions allow their members to “go digital” – and only digital – there’s a stronger possibility they’ll lose that member. It’s not difficult to predict credit unions getting out-maneuvered by the competition in a digital-only game. Banks and fintechs are killing it when it comes to the online and mobile experience.

At the same time, banks and fintechs can’t hold a candle to the personalized experience that credit unions offer their members. They are completely outmatched when the game is human-to-human connection.

The credit union advantage won’t last forever, though – at least not without a data and analytics strategy and forward-thinking approach. The Chases and Amazons of the world have developed amazing analytical capabilities to help them understand consumers and to provide mind-bending, revolutionary solutions on top of that intelligence. Credit unions have the capacity and the imperative to do the same.

What’s happening right now that makes this topic important?

To get through the challenges of COVID-19, credit unions are looking for new ways to service their members remotely. That will bring with it a lot of advantages, if they can maintain the human connection. Pushing members who don’t want to “go digital” to the laptop or the smartphone is not the answer – or at least not the only one.

Credit unions must be thinking through a few distinct things:
1.How can we ensure the digital and remote experiences members are adopting today are smooth, easy and something members will learn to love?
2.How can we make our call center, virtual teller, video conferences and other remote engagement channels feel as in-person as possible?
3.How can we maintain the security and privacy of our member’s data and remain compliant as we make necessary adjustments?
4.And, of course, how can we give staff the tools they need to maintain professionalism while wearing stretchy pants?

Ok, so that last one is somewhat rhetorical, but in many ways, it’s worth asking. Those of us who lead teams need to ask ourselves how we can support our front-line employees in the delivery of exceptional, on-brand and relevant services… while outside the walls of our professional spaces.

How is this going to look a year down the road? What about 5 years?

A year from now, credit unions will have addressed competitive and member-experience pressures by expanding their data analytics capabilities exponentially. The 360-degree view of the member will have risen to the level of table stakes in the retail financial services marketplace. With their newfound data and analytics competencies, credit unions will achieve several great things, namely:
•An optimal balance between human interactions and digital engagement
•A robust way of measuring member satisfaction and spotting trends within that data
•A seamless way of integrating new technologies that drive home the CU difference
•A data-driven, laser focus on cultivating financial wellness, automated to whatever degree makes sense for their cooperative

In five years? If credit unions play their cards right, they will have to cover much greater distances. Having achieved something much closer to market dominance, they’ll be serving members around the world… potentially even beyond. Digital banking from the Moon? Now, that will require a whole different kind of stretchy pants.

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The League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates represents 302 credit unions in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, with a combined total of $175 billion in assets and more than 11.6 million members. LSCU & Affiliates provides legislative and regulatory advocacy; education and training; cooperative initiatives (including financial education outreach); public messaging; information services; and business solutions.

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