Filene Guest Post, Credit Union Digital Transformation in the Age of COVID-19
Guest Blog from Filene Research Institute's Taylor C. Nelms and Elry Armaza
November 30, 2020
Taylor C. Nelms, Senior Director of Research, Filene Research Institute
Elry Armaza, Custom Research Director, Filene Research Institute
The era of neighborhood branch gathering places may no longer be tenable as a new era dawns of self- and curbside-service, constant online connectivity, and conversation in virtual spaces. In partnership with State National, Filene’s Center for Emerging Technology is exploring the future of digital financial services.
What will be the lasting impacts of the lingering coronavirus pandemic and the broader social, economic, and political changes that have accompanied the pandemic? At the Filene Research Institute, we don’t see the pandemic initiating new trends so much as accelerating, deepening, and intensifying new ones. Among the most important is the rapid expansion—and reinvention—of digital financial services.
Online and mobile access to financial services is nothing new. But as the pandemic has taken hold and deepened, everyday life for many Americans has become increasingly mediated by digital technologies. According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey of executives, the average share of consumer interactions that are digital has jumped from 41% in December 2019 to 65% in July 2020, and the average share of products and services that are fully or partially digitized increased from 41% to 60% over the same period. And with greater consumer acceptance and adoption of digital channels comes new consumer behaviors and higher consumer expectations. Those behaviors and expectations evolving based on experiences with non-financial businesses.
For credit unions, digital transformation is also here with a vengeance, whether we like it or not. As one credit union executive put it, “What does curbside delivery for financial services look like?” Credit unions are finding out the answer to this question in real-time, seeing massive growth in online and mobile traffic, investing in member education and technical support, accelerating digital service and sales integration, and growing capacity for personalization and relationship management.
At the same time, many financial institutions are seeing increased demand for non-digital service interactions, too—evident in dramatic spikes in contact center usage, long lines at branch drive-throughs, and (for some) surprising demand for appointment-only branch visits.
What behaviors and expectations will prove the stickiest in the post-pandemic world? As we have written previously, there are a spectrum of possibilities and opportunities in credit union digital transformation. At one end of that spectrum, consumers continue their embrace of digital life, embedding technology deeper in the ways they work, shop, eat, connect with one another—and yes, do their banking. Automated self-service becomes the norm. At the other end, consumers find they miss in-person experiences and seek out valuable “human-first” interactions, including in retail environments. Neither of these worlds is unlikely—and neither is inevitable. More likely we end up with some mix of the two, with players specializing in particular experiences (rather than product sets or market segments).
So what can credit unions do to prepare? Here’s what we know. Digital deposit-taking and payments are relatively advanced, although not ubiquitously so; digital account-opening and onboarding, end-to-end digital lending, and enhanced digital marketing are all on their way. Many organizations are looking to robotic process automation to find efficiencies in an increasingly revenue-strapped environment. These are quickly becoming table stakes. So too may be contactless payments, although novel payment form factors have historically been additive rather than substitutive—not replacing cash, for example, but simply being added into the repertoire of ways to pay.
Some of the next top opportunities and challenges for digital financial services include the following:
- Faster, more transparent, and more intuitive money movement and management through digital personal financial management tools and treasury services
- AI-based chatbots or conversational agents and other forms of voice and video banking
- Identity solutions, with enhanced and responsive security
- Advanced analytics, backed up by solid data management and governance and open, interoperable systems for data sharing and third-party partnerships
With the enhanced focus onto digital services, credit unions should:
Lead with trust.
- Our research at Filene (see here and here) has shown that technology adoption and use in financial services is deeply shaped by trust consumers have in their financial services providers. How can credit unions build and maintain that trust? Safety and security—especially when it comes to member data—provides an important foundation. For example, credit unions have invested heavily in technology-driven fraud prevention initiatives, and these investments should be communicated clearly to members. A successful messaging strategy should include three elements: (1) reassure members the many ways credit unions are protecting their data; (2) remind members this is a joint effort, and they play a crucial role; and (3) in the event fraud concerns arise, the credit union has a transparent process in how to process such claim. If that process can be made entirely and seamlessly self-service, all the better.
Recognize that excellent service is all about fit.
- New Filene research also emphasizes the importance of “member compatibility” to achieving service excellence. Member compatibility refers to the fit between member needs and expectations with credit unions’ offerings, delivery design, and operational model. It requires centering your service strategy around the demands of your target members—and being ready to say “no” to those who won’t be best served by your strategy. This framework prompts credit unions to assess what service attributes are most important and which can be left aside. You can download a Filene workshop guide to help your teams evaluate your current digital service offerings and explore what elements are critical to best meeting the priorities of your target members.
Move towards operational transparency.
- Members rarely see behind the scenes at credit unions. But research suggests that member satisfaction, their perception of value, and their trust all increase when they are able to understand the work that is being done on their behalf. Transparency is especially helpful for self-service solutions. A real-time service tracker displaying the different phases and milestones generates a sense of progress and control for members replacing long silences and pauses found in some service experiences.
Combine human service and technology with the adoption of a telemedicine model.
- The telemedicine model does not attempt to replace humans with technology, but to augment human service through technology. By emulating elements of this service model credit unions could benefit from its many advantages. It allows people the flexibility to address their needs at convenient times, reduces face-to-face exposure for both parties, and could reduce the total length of the interactions by connecting asynchronously.
- No financial institution can confront the complexities, uncertainties, and costs of digital transformation alone. Credit unions are especially skilled when it comes to leveraging their cooperative experience to build valuable partnerships. Today, many credit unions are looking to expand their partnerships, opening up their systems and services and building their own tech stacks to provide their members with the best options available.
Ultimately, digital transformation must do more than simply convert business lines to new platforms and interfaces. Digital transformation must reimagine what is possible in financial services—that that may require organizational restructuring, resource reallocation, new partner and new talent identification, a broader strategic vision, and the courage to act on it.
 “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever,” McKinsey & Company, 10/5/2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-covid-19-has-pushed-companies-over-the-technology-tipping-point-and-transformed-business-forever