Credit unions are using text messages to let members know when branches are closed or operations are altered.
In addition to emergency situations, text messaging can be useful for touching base with members who are in danger of falling behind on loan payments.
The reality presented by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed credit unions across the country to adopt new or different communication methods to better inform and serve members. Text messaging, which was a part of many communication plans before the pandemic, has become even more urgent as branch interactions and other, more traditional access points have become limited.
Here, Central Willamette Credit Union, Generations Credit Union, Interra Credit Union, and Georgetown Kraft Credit Union share the ways they use text messaging today, the strategies supporting their future plans, and the advice they have for other cooperatives considering a push to text.
Just In Time
Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, President/CEO, Central Willamette Credit Union
Central Willamette Credit Union ($358.2M, Albany, OR) launched its text messaging initiative on March 25, 2020 — just two days after the state’s “stay home, stay healthy” order to combat the spread of COVID-19 took effect.
“We instituted emergency messaging as our first big push,” says Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, president and chief executive officer.
The credit union now uses text messages to communicate one-on-one with members through branch- specific lines, but the initial emergency message directed all members to a COVID landing page that presented detailed information and instructions regarding how to contact the credit union by phone, email, and secure message.
The deliverability of that first emergency message was high. Approximately 75% of members received the text at the mobile number they had on file with the credit union; approximately 14% opened and read it. But something beyond numbers piqued the interest of the credit union.
“After we sent the initial text, we found members referred back to that text message for the link to our landing page without us sending subsequent messages,” says Erik Fedler, marketing manager at Central Willamette. “Members knew how to get to the information and simply went back to the page, which we kept updating.”
The credit union is still working on its second phase of implementation, which requires building an opt-in database of eligible users for mass marketing messages. In the meantime, its one-to-one text communications are proving to be a well-received member service tool.
Erik Fedler, Marketing Manager, Central Willamette Credit Union
“As of June 12, we’ve had 423 unique conversations with members via text message,” Fedler says. “One of our goals was to reduce call wait times and give members another channel to connect with us. This is doing that.”
The credit union’s financial advocates and branch managers reach out to members via text to request loan documents such as copies of paychecks, insurance information, and a current driver’s license. In cases like this, messages are assigned to a specific employee. That employee, then, receives the message notifications and responds through the branch’s assigned line so the member doesn’t have to explain their situation over and over again.
Implementing the service was easier than Central Willamette expected. The credit union had been planning to roll out text messaging later in 2020 but was able to put the emergency communication in place in only 48 hours. The one-to-one messaging took approximately a week. That’s a little time for a lot of benefit, and the Oregon cooperative doesn’t see why other credit unions wouldn’t benefit just as much.
“Take the plunge,” Wyss-Schoenborn advises. “It’s better for the membership and creates efficiency on the front lines.”
Before members of Central Willamette Credit Union can receive text messages from their credit union, they must opt-in, and doing so is easy.
Text messages and a partnership with Visa helps Generations Credit Union ($569.6M, San Antonio, TX) work with members to combat credit card fraud.
If a purchase registers as a red flag, Visa automatically sends a text that asks the member to reply with a “Yes” or “No” as to whether the charge is legitimate. If the member replies “No,” Generations immediately restricts the card and provides further instructions for the member to contact the credit union or Visa directly.
“While we’ve only used text messaging for fraud purposes to date, we’re working on a solution now to change our entire phone system to integrate both text and online chat,” says Jessica Hernandez, vice president of operations.
Jessica Hernandez, VP of Operations, Generations Credit Union
The credit union already encourages members to provide a current mobile phone number and estimates the majority of memberships opened in the past several years have an accurate mobile number on file.
The cooperative also asks members to provide mobile phone information so they can sign documents or approve wire requests after authenticating through online banking on their mobile device. Internally, Generations uses texts regularly to communicate with staff members for business continuity purposes.
“In the future, our goal would be to use it similarly with members so they have the latest information on which branches are open or closed on an emergency basis,” Hernandez says.
So far, members have responded positively to the fraud alerts and reminders of limited operations. Even if members can’t or don’t text back, they read the texts and find the information beneficial, according to Hernandez.
In terms of advice for other cooperatives, Hernandez doesn’t see the point in fighting the future.
“Text messaging is the future, so I highly suggest everyone moves toward that,” the VP says. “We’re excited about expanding our texting capabilities in the near future.”
Interra Credit Union ($1.2B, Goshen, IN) started using text messaging on a limited scale slightly more than a month ago.
David Dekker, SVP of Consumer Services, Interra Credit Union
“We thought using it with our member solutions [collections] team would have the biggest potential benefit initially,” says David Dekker, senior vice president of consumer services.
The credit union rolled out a robust deferment plan for members when the pandemic first hit. When the deferment period ended and payments became due, the credit union found reminder text messages were a more effective way to connect with members than traditional phone calls.
Interra has many other uses planned for text messaging; in the meantime, member responses filtered through its collections and call center teams are promising. Members can reply back to one-to-one messages, and a queuing system directs the response to the appropriate team for follow-up. Separate text numbers are assigned to each area to prevent confusion.
As far as challenges, Interra is navigating the compliance around mass messaging and looking for new ways to make the opt-in process easier. After all, member experience is a top priority — even during a pandemic.
“You should always be sensitive to member needs,” Dekker says. “While there might be a segment that pushes back, organizations must continue to look forward. Change isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be an inhibitor to communicating with your members in new ways.”
Research And Prepare For The Future
Georgetown Kraft Credit Union ($121.1M, Georgetown, SC) started text messaging in late January 2020. The inaugural text was a message letting members know the credit union’s lobbies would be closing and what the protocol was for the drive-thru. After the initial mass message, the credit union used one-to-one messaging to communicate and set lobby appointments.
“We were just in the process of getting our toes wet as COVID started,” says Nikki Ewing, vice president of marketing. “So, it was a feet-to-the-fire situation.”
Share and Download Texting Policies
If a member responds to a text message from the credit union, Georgetown Kraft considers that an opt-in. From there, any back and forth communication is covered under the cooperative’s disclosures. And so far, loan officers, member service representatives, and collections staff members are all making use of the new communication channel.
“If someone is behind on a payment, we might simply reach out via text and ask if there’s something we can help them with,” Ewing says.
Because the solution is cloud-based, credit union representatives can text from their computers instead of using personal cell phones, which helps avoid privacy and other issues. The credit union has separate lines set up for its main contact center and each branch, and although the contact center can handle most general questions, reps can also forward texts via email when they are in regard to a branch-specific request or named loan officer.
We were just in the process of getting our toes wet as COVID started. So, it was a feet-to-the-fire situation.
The credit union requires members to provide a current cell phone number when they open an account or register for online banking, but cleaning up the cell phone database remains an ongoing process. Front-line staffers also ask members to update their information, and the credit union is encouraging opt-ins for mass marketing messages through advertisements in its lobbies and other member communications.
“With lobbies closed, we weren’t able to educate members as much as we typically would,” Ewing says. “Going forward, it will be easier to let members know about this service, and I think our number of opt-ins will grow.”
Central Willamette texts with members about more than emergencies. Members can also text in general inquiries and talk with credit union staffers in a one-on-one conversation.
Ewing also sees a lot of post-COVID opportunity in informational and emergency messaging regarding hurricanes, ice storms, floods, and other natural disasters. And although she recognizes larger credit unions might be able to create a solution in-house, Ewing encourages mid-sized credit unions to do their research and find a partner that has the resources and capabilities they need.
“Budgets are going to be different, so you have to find what will work best for you,” the VP advises.
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