In a pandemic, digital readiness matters more than ever

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If there’s been one universal takeaway from 2020 for the financial services industry, it might be that nothing accelerates the pace of change faster than a pandemic.

Karan Bhalla, CEO of CU Rise
Karan Bhalla, CEO of CU Rise

Though data shows that many credit unions are catching up when it comes to digital transformation, there’s an abundance of examples of credit unions getting it right. Those that entered 2020 with a strong digital strategy and technology tools underfoot had a much easier time making the quick pivot to a socially distant environment.

Even with that firm advantage, the most effective digital responses still required agility, insights and a human-centered approach to be successful. Here’s a look at how two credit unions effectively used the power of digital and data to respond in just the ways their members needed.

Enhancing digital products with pandemic benefits

As the springtime efforts to flatten the curve kept many sheltered at home, CBC Federal Credit Union in Oxnard, Calif. began to see an uptick of new checking account sign-ups come in online. President and CEO Rick Weber wanted these members to have the best possible initial experience with the credit union, regardless of whether they could interact with an employee in-person.

The new members didn’t just want to sit down at a computer to access products and services – they wanted access literally at their fingertips. CBC recognized the need for an updated mobile app, and began work on its current project to streamline the application process so that the membership application, checking account signup, or new loan applications could be completed within minutes.

Long before the pandemic, CBC had been redesigning its checking account offerings. Taking inspiration from the subscription-based models used by leading tech companies like Netflix and Amazon, and equipped with deep member insights derived from data analytics, CBC launched its subscription-based “EPIC Checking” in 2018, which bundled its checking account product with additional services and benefits.

As they tuned into the multitude of concerns of their members, CBC recognized the opportunity to update its EPIC checking products to reflect the rapidly changing times. As protecting their financial wellbeing became a clear source of members’ anxiety, CBC enhanced its checking account benefits to include insurance coverage, identity-theft protection and prescription drug discounts. During March, April and May the number of new accounts was 20% higher than the previous year and checking account balances grew by an average of 6% – a sign that members may have felt comfortable consolidating funds in their EPIC accounts.

From start to finish, CBC was able to execute everything digitally and provide responsive service to their members in short order. The 498 million-asset institution was in a position to act quickly with confidence because its actions were data-driven. The member response to the updated processes and products was overwhelmingly positive, and Weber believes it will strengthen their member relationships for years to come.

Digital investments pay big dividends

Back in 2019, when the thought of a global pandemic seemed more likely on the movie screen than real life, management at TopLine Federal Credit Union had no idea how well-timed their technology upgrade would turn out to be.

Thanks to those investments, members were able to quickly transition to online and mobile banking platforms after branches across Minnesota closed their lobbies in March, so members could handle everything from routine transactions to applying for and closing loans with e-signatures.

The employees who were no longer serving members in-branch were redeployed to COVID customer assistance teams specializing in different areas such as loan extensions and deferments, payment modifications, mortgage forbearance, financial counseling and wealth management.

Vicki Roscoe Erickson, TopLine’s SVP of marketing and communications, ensured the customer assistance teams were supported with digital tools to maximize the efficiency of their response. A new “Member Assistance COVID Help” landing page on the website directed visitors to a dedicated digital portal with information about available resources. A form was created so members could easily reach out for help online and then receive a personal phone call from the appropriate customer service team.

While branch transactions decreased by 68% from February to April, remote deposit increased 23%, online banking logins went up 28% and new online memberships increased by a whopping 120%. Erickson saw the increase in new memberships as proof that a good digital experience could win new customers that had never even stepped foot inside a branch.

As digital activity grew, TopLine used data analytics to closely monitor and analyze changes in member behavior. Knowing their interest rates were often better than the competition, they mined ACH data to determine which members were making auto and home loan payments to other institutions. They targeted those members with personalized offers to determine if TopLine could save them money with a refinance. Analytics also helped to determine which members were seeing reduced incomes, so a personal phone call could be made with an offer of help and support.

As the digital footprint of its members continues to grow, analytics systems will provide further insights into how TopLine should add new products, modify existing products, manage risk and adapt member assistance.

These two credit unions showcase the opportunities that are often buried within new challenges. And with the tumultuous year only half done, it will be the most digitally ready credit unions that will be nimble and responsive enough to capably contend with whatever comes next.

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