A Connecticut bank is working with a credit union and a team of business school students to find ways to connect with millennials.

Savings Bank of Danbury and Greylock Federal Credit Union are providing advisory services to the University of Connecticut's "Financial Accelerator Project," an initiative designed to improve understanding of how millennials interface with mobile banking. Fiserv, which has been eager to add more innovative apps to its app store, has also joined in to the effort, which recruited its first student researchers earlier this year.

The team participated in weekly meetings in recent months, where members tested hypotheses with Fiserv product managers and representatives from the bank and credit union. In particular, the team researched regional banks, finding that many lagged behind in the use of social media and data analytics, says Michael Maczka, one of the students who participated in the project.

"The project gave us the opportunity to do a deep dive into the banking software industry," adds Maczka, who recently accepted a position at eBay. "We did a lot of research in the first phase of the project and found that smaller regional banks face very different challenges than their nationwide counterparts."

"Millennials are the hardest for us to capture," says Kathleen Romagnano, president and chief executive of the $827 million-asset Savings Bank of Danbury. "They don't naturally gravitate towards banks the way customers of previous generations did. … They are the future generation that we want to get into banking early. We hope to have long-term relationships with them."

The business school students set out to find deficiencies in financial institutions' strategies, identifying plenty of gaps at smaller banks and credit unions.

"We realized that some clients did not have any feasible models in place to analyze the lifetime value of the customer," Maczka says. "We also found that data analytics and big data in general were woefully underused by most regional players due to lack of understanding and resources."

Once the group determined that bigger banks were using "sophisticated big data technologies" to better serve customers through personalized offers and better risk management, it decided to focus app development around "a better usage of data without the need to invest heavily into complex big data algorithms," Maczka adds.

"I was shocked at some of the ideas they were coming up with and ones we thought had merit," says Kevin Zimmer, chief information officer at the $1.1 billion-asset Greylock. "One idea was their focus on big data and predictive analytics, which is something we are working on, Fiserv is working on — the whole industry is. They were going down that path and I was encouraging them on it."

There was no shortage of terrific ideas and concepts by the end of the spring semester, says Chris Van der Stad, chief technology officer in Fiserv's Open Solutions Division, adding that Fiserv is hopeful it can deliver an app during the fall semester.

"By getting the students together … we really got the juices flowing," Van der Stad says. "This generation is the demographic credit unions are looking to attract and attain."

Fiserv, Savings Bank of Danbury and Greylock will continue to deliberate over the summer, and new students will join the program this fall. Participants are also optimistic that the research effort could take root at other universities.

"We would hope this would be a start of several of these, either at UConn or at other schools," Romagnano says. "It allows us to get new applications out there to benefit all of our customers."

Only time will tell what apps will be introduced, but for Maczka and his team, the biggest take away was discovering a barrier between millennials and financial institutions, which he says could be overcome with the right technologies.

"Millennials do not trust their banks and are rather uneducated when it comes to finance and banking," Maczka says. "They respond well to personalized offers and to technology fueled processes and applications. Therefore, we aimed at developing apps that utilized data to allow financial institutions deliver better products, tailored towards the needs of millennials."

"We have long had sense of collaboration and I haven't seen a lot of difference between" banks and credit unions," Zimmer adds, discussing his work with Savings Bank of Danbury. "From a community banking level there seems to be a lot of commonalities."