If you think it all comes down to asset size and field of membership to determine your technology adoption strategy, think again.
For many credit unions, a technology strategy extends beyond regions, demographics, and even the balance sheet. Early technological adoption is neither prudent nor necessary for every co-op, but if the members and the market are right, credit unions can pioneer exciting new options to serve up cooperative service.
With two locations, a shared branch network and an online/mobile suite, WV United Federal Credit Union ($25M, Charleston, WV) serves just more than 4,600 members. Among other accomplishments, it was the first institution to unveil a Remote Deposit Capture (RDC) app for the iPhone, something many banks and credit unions have yet to offer to this day.
From using Square card readers in its branches, to future goals like a virtual assistant as a component of mobile banking, WV United is continuing its path of using new technology in new ways to serve members. Linda Bodie, CEO, explains how the credit union determines which technology to adopt and when, and how this strategy impacts the rest of the institution.
On a spectrum from early adopter to later adopter, where would your credit union fall?
Linda Bodie: I would label us an early adopter. With the iPhone RDC strategy, that was something we had thought about years before the whole Apple app phenomenon happened. But at the time there was no secure way to send images on a phone, so Apple helped us out with that.
We’re always looking to see what are our people doing, and what are our members are engaged in. Whatever technology we can use, we try to integrate with the products and services that we offer to make them easier and more relevant for members.
There’s a “coolness factor” to it, but there’s also the reason of member service. With young people growing up in a totally different world than we grew up in, we have to be ready to serve them by their means.
The other thing you can’t forget is your current membership. It’s a balancing act, and it’s not that older people won’t adopt these technologies, there are plenty who do. But you have to move forward and you have to be prepared.
How did you assess interest and vet the viability of various technologies within the institution before you moved forward?
LB: We have core groups that we talk to in the credit union, some younger generations, some middle and some older, and we try to poll them with our ideas and get their views.
But we’re also trying to see what others are doing because if we’re not keeping pace, that’s not a good thing. We’re looking at the financial industry as a whole and even beyond banks. A lot of our ideas for the technologies that we use don’t even come from financial services.
For instance, how many other institutions are using Skype for in-branch communications? Here’s a tool that is widely used and has been able to fulfill a service within our credit union and it had nothing to do with what any other credit union was doing.
So we get our information from a variety of places and try to implement the best and most cost effective strategies that we can. Facebook and Twitter are other examples. Today, if we’re not in social media, we’re losing nally had nothing to do with financial institutions.
There’s no blueprint. Because things change so quickly, you have to be aware of what’s going on in all aspects of members’ lives. Once you know what the consumer is using, you’re able to reach them and communicate your message.
What are some interesting things you’re doing as far as back office technology? Do you have the same adoption strategy there or is it a slightly more conservative approach?
LB: We have the same strategy there. We’ve been paperless as much as you can be paperless for eight to nine years. Everything is scanned, imaged and warehoused so the only paper we have are the titles to our vehicles. The phone system is an internet protocol (IP) system that can be accessed from a computer, iPhone or wherever.
We use Skype every day and every person in the credit union has an account. We monitor it to make sure everything is appropriate and employees are well versed in what’s allowable and what’s not.
If you’re on the front line and you’ve got a question you can’t answer, you can get someone who knows and get an answer back while the member is still standing there. It builds product knowledge pretty quickly, too. For communication between branches, sometimes a Skype chat is easier than a phone call.
Do issues or limitations in the core processing systems play a role in determining what technologies you will or will not adopt?
LB: We just changed core processors last year, for the main reason that this processor was not moving forward and adopting new technologies. We needed to add services that weren’t just ‘add on’ pieces you tape onto the core. Today, we use CU*Answers.
Now, things are much more integrated. Some things you still have to patch on as best you can, but it’s much easier when you have the right system and partner.
We now have mobile banking and greatly improved online banking, and the user options and customization there is amazing. Members can open products like a CD and not even have to talk to a person if they don’t want to. They can also see links to our Facebook and Twitter pages when they’re on their online banking page. Text banking is in beta, but it’s coming as well. I’m not sure how other folks could move forward with new technologies if their processor is not supportive of that.
In hindsight, are there cases where it would make more sense to be a late adopter that you could see or that you have experienced?
LB: There are some instances when you should sit back and wait to see what happens. Maybe it doesn’t fit your plan. With contactless payments, you can’t just jump into that right now, especially if you’re a smaller institution. You don’t know where things are going to settle and you don’t want to say I’m going to adopt this option and then that’s not the thing that takes off. Sure, we’d like to be there right now, but it’s still a few years away.
How is the rest of the institution involved in the process of being an early adopter and where do you rely on vendor expertise?
LB: We were able to develop the RDC app ourselves, because our IT guy is an Apple developer. Probably 25-30% of our technology is developed in-house and the rest would be vendor supplied.
Core providers typically have strategic partnerships that can be resources and keep you in the loop of developing technology. I personally follow a lot of tech companies and tech people, both within the credit union industry and without, so I can know what’s on the horizon and how we need to start thinking about it.
For other staff, we approach them from the standpoint of “this is something we’re doing to make your job easier.” You’re giving them more time to focus on the people part of running a credit union and not the process part.
If we can make it easier for the employee and the member, then that’s our goal. Yes, we still want to see our members, but some don’t ever want to come into a branch. So we’re trying to build an environment that serves the need of all our members and not just one group.