In the run up to Fintech Talents North America, we are speaking to credit unions and community banks across North America to gather their views on how they see the future unfolding in their corner of the financial services sector.
We start with Australia Hoover, President/CEO of the CDC Federal Credit Union in Atlanta who notes the importance of supporting both the needs of customers and employees. As a small credit union, he sees working with partners as key to their digital strategy.
Australia takes satisfaction in seeing the CDC Credit Union improving the lives of members and shares that he was ‘taught very early in my career that we are in the people business and the interests of the human beings who entrust us with their livelihood should never be set aside in favour of anything else’.
What community does your credit union serve?
We serve both employees, family members and contractors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; as well as those who live, work, worship or attend school in portions of Dekalb, Gwinnett, and Fulton Counties (metropolitan Atlanta, GA). We also serve select employee groups such as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, American Cancer Society, and others in the health, life-science sector.
Do you think the role of credit unions is changing?
My answer may surprise you but no, I do not think the role of credit unions and community banks should be viewed as a changing role. Speaking for my credit union, the role we play has stayed relatively constant. We have long been dedicated to the development and delivery of products and services that help people of all means afford the lifestyle they desire and deserve.
What I do believe has changed is not our role, but the prevailing attitudes and preferences people have about how they make financial decisions and navigate the world of payments, investments, education, retirement, etc. While the delivery methods certainly change, and the conversations about how to help solve these fundamental challenges for consumers have changed some, I think we have had the right model for how to help people from the very beginning.
What are some of the challenges you face in what is a fast-changing industry?
Like most industries in today’s world, the pace of change is certainly affecting our organization. In addition to changing preferences about how people acquire and consume financial services, the challenge of attracting and retaining qualified talent to help sustain high-performing teams is becoming harder and harder to do well. I see these things being related to the rapid innovation that has occurred in other areas of our lives and spills over into our organization as well.
For example, if a gig-worker can set their own hours, work in an environment that is well-suited to their unique preferences, earn wages that are commensurate with the output they produce, and can spend their time doing what they are passionate about doing, what selling points can our organization offer to compete with that? How can we help add the same level of value to our associates’ personal and professional development needs as we do to our members’ financial needs? These concepts go hand in hand. It has long been understood in business that happy customers are generally served by employees who are themselves engaged, motivated, and happy.
How has the pandemic impacted the way you operate and your future strategy?
The pandemic has really devastated many families and has had a tremendous impact on all of us. As far as how we operate, we are forced to constantly remain attentive to ensuring the safety of our associates and our members. Our in-person office hours remain limited, although we have kept our doors open during the entire COVID-19 crisis. We have had to remain extremely flexible in just about every area of our operations, simply because at any given moment, someone or their family member might be impacted, which can send shockwaves through the organization. I am proud to say that our team has done an exceptional job of managing our way through the pandemic.
The pandemic has reinforced what we have seen coming for the past several years, and that is the need to have a robust and resilient digital banking/remote service delivery plan. I mention both digital banking and remote service delivery because it goes beyond just having a cool mobile banking application. While that is essential, there are other aspects to remote service delivery that impact members, and ultimately affect how they view the convenience of your service.
A simple example might be something like a wire transfer from your bank or credit union to another institution. Most digital banking applications do not facilitate an end-to-end wire transfer. I am aware of wire transfer requests across our industry requiring a combination of phone calls, emails, 3rd party security questions, signing and scanning forms back to the institution, etc., and that assumes the institution will even take a remote wire request at all. A member-centric view of all services must occur in order to deliver secure and convenient remote services. That’s where it helps for institutions to really know their customers. Have the types of relationships and insights that allow for frictionless interactions while appropriately managing risk. Credit unions are in a perfect position to be able to deliver that type of personal experience to our members.
Is digitisation a priority for your institution?
Yes, without question digital services remains a high priority for us. Ironically, we’ve discovered that not having a drive-through at any of our branches has caused some of our members to be inconvenienced during the pandemic. It also has limited our ability to utilize a drive through as a “safe” service delivery channel. That was never on our list of high priorities before COVID because we were so focused on building out our digital banking strategy. Now, we’ve had to incorporate traditional in-person solutions that are safe and convenient as well.
Is working with partners part of your strategy?
Yes. Being a relatively small credit union by numbers of employees (around 50 FTE) we rely on partners to help deliver upon our strategic objectives. Internal development of solutions in the digital space is certainly possible and commonplace for many larger credit unions, but for us, we are not there yet. We select partners that have an innovative approach to solving problems, and who share similar views about exceptional service and adding value that will benefit our members.
Digital channels or branches – which is more important?
I believe digital channels play a crucial role today but will be especially important for the future of financial services. My credit union has not ever had a big branch footprint, and for us has not played as important a role as remote service delivery channels have played. Branches of the future I believe are those with smaller footprints, are strategically located, that integrate and complement the organization’s digital strategy are also important and will play a key role in serving an important segment of banking consumers for many years to come.
The best thing about being part of a credit union bank is….
Really feeling like you are doing something that makes other people’s lives better. The stories of the members we help buy their first home, save for college, adopt a child; or those we saved from paying too much for their car, are just a few examples of the types of life events that our credit union helps people with regularly. I was taught very early in my career that we are in the people business and the interests of the human beings who entrust us with their livelihood should never be set aside in favor of anything else.