2 Smart Ways to Keep Members at the Center of Your Innovation Strategy

By Micheal Herman, CUNA Mutual Group’s AdvantEdge Digital

Credit unions promise to keep members at the center of everything they do. Yet, when it comes to innovation, living up to that promise can get a little tricky. That’s because credit unions are often at the mercy of a patchwork of technology partners, each with varying degrees of human-centricity. Although credit unions may be able to customize a setting here or there, they are not necessarily in the driver’s seat when it comes to the ultimate user experience.

Fortunately, there is something credit unions can do to gain greater control when collaborating with partners on innovation strategy, and that’s to work with developers that adhere to the principles of human-centered design.

Human-centered design is a development philosophy built on a foundation of empathy. It’s a philosophy followed by market disruptors like Venmo, HelloFresh and Spotify to reimagine, build, deliver and iterate game-changing experiences tailored perfectly to the end user’s reality. It’s also deployed by our team at AdvantEdge Digital.

For more than two years, our team has been building and iterating a digital lending platform, specifically for the credit union movement, following the principles of human-centered design. Many of the tactical pieces of the strategy are intentionally eye-opening, challenging innovators’ gut instincts to get at an intensely relevant and enjoyable user experience. Here are two of them you might consider trying within your own organization.

  1. Empathize with the Innovation’s Core User

Because it’s a continuous, iterative process, human-centered design forces builders to focus on user needs in every single phase of design. The idea is to address the whole user experience by having a strong grip on context. How does a team of technologists do that? Through a series of both investigative and generative methods.

For our team, that meant working hand-in-hand with some of the industry’s most progressive credit unions, like 121 Financial Credit Union. With their continual feedback, we built, beta tested and piloted our way through multiple versions – and a pandemic – to bring the digital lending solution to market.

“We identified a couple different aspects of the digital lending solution that could be tweaked to improve the overall flow and consistency of the member’s experience,” explained Cathy Hufstetler, 121 Financial’s senior vice president of lending. As an example, the credit union advised our team that 121 Financial’s members would have a more consistent experience if the digital lending solution’s payment simulator pulled data from NADAguides rather than Kelly Blue Book to match the value the credit union uses for the lending decision.

As your credit union looks to roll out new products, services and experiences, start by identifying the member personas most likely to engage with the innovation. Next, consider how those personas will use the product and under what conditions they will use it. Ask questions to uncover pain points people generally experience while attempting to get the job you’re innovating for done. Build a user feedback loop into the product’s continuous development so that trends and shifts in user expectations become a natural part of the iterative process.

  1. Get Serious about Member Intelligence

As we toiled over the platform’s creation, we found ourselves continually calling on the data scientists and business intelligence experts within CUNA Mutual Group. To ensure our product delivered the high-touch, high-tech experience credit union lenders and borrowers deserve, we had to build analytics into the experience. Indeed, data and digital are inextricably linked. To truly innovate in today’s digital landscape, you must have your data house in order.

It’s not unusual for credit unions to uncover data gaps, as many are only at the beginning of their data transformation journeys. Regardless of the digital technology or solution they want to implement, credit union innovators often find themselves hitting data governance and data engineering walls. Helping our credit union partners scale those walls generated one of our brightest light bulb moments: To win with modern members, credit unions need consultation and solutions that are unified across data and digital.

As your credit union develops its innovation strategy, think through the many different ways data analytics can power your product, service and experience development. Then, look for sources of business intelligence both inside and outside your walls. Gather your IT and analytics experts together to help launch a data governance initiative to keep your innovation roadmap moving forward in lock-step with evolving member needs.

More now than ever before, having a strong understanding of innovation strategy is an important part of a credit union leader’s role. As you research ways to innovate through buy, build and partner strategies, look for opportunities to inject the principles of human-centered design into the conversation. Encourage your teams to think with a data-first mindset so that actual, real-time member intelligence, not gut-instinct or status-quo mentalities, is the driver of innovation. Credit unions themselves were originated through human-centered design long before the term was even coined, which makes this approach to innovation well aligned with the credit union difference.

Micheal Herman is the senior vice president of product innovation and technology at CUNA Mutual Group’s AdvantEdge Digital. He will soon release a series of briefs for credit union innovators on how to apply the principles of human-centered design within a credit union environment. Keep an eye on AdvantEdge.Digital for instructions on how to access the series.

Written by
Ann Naiman
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The League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates represents 342 credit unions in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, with a combined total of $118.63 billion in assets and more than 10.1 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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