Help Members Soar, Not Simply Survive

With a new partnership and approach to driving engagement, Affinity FCU is fostering a thriving membership.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • Affinity FCU has reoriented the focus of its member feedback survey from moment-in-time satisfaction to member engagement centered around moments of truth.
  • With more robust insights and in-depth benchmarking, the credit union hopes to better understand member engagement and improve the financial well-being of its entire membership down to the individual.


Affinity FCU
Data as of 12.31.19

HQ: Basking Ridge, NJ
MEMBERS: 179,556
ROA: 0.49%

Three years ago, Affinity Federal Credit Union ($3.5B, Basking Ridge, NJ) was looking for a holistic way to grade member engagement. Traditional models namely, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric reflect a moment in time in the member experience, and Affinity wanted more regular, meaningful feedback.

In its search, the credit union learned about a member engagement score developed by Gallup, an analytics and advisory company. Gallup, unlike NPS, offers analysis on the moment of truth which aims to understand the psychology behind a purchasing decision. In addition, Gallup has spent years researching personal well-being. Affinity CEO John Fenton saw how combining engagement and well-being scoring into a survey-based member feedback mechanism, all designed and administered with Gallup’s involvement, could provide a level of insight to which it had not previously had access. Plus, Affinity thinks there’s a connection between member engagement with the credit union and overall financial well-being, so better measuring the former to help improve the latter.

After a formal conversation with Gallup in early 2019, Fenton assigned its chief brand officer, Jacqui Kearns, to lead the partnership.

Jacqui Kearns, Chief Brand Officer, Affinity FCU

I oversee the Affinity brand, which encompasses sales, marketing, and member services, Kearns says. I can take feedback and immediately influence front line culture and marketing messages. We can move a little bit faster on our learnings.

In the spring of 2019, Kearns traveled to Omaha, NE, to attend a champions workshop at Gallup’s operational headquarters. During the two-day workshop, Gallup representatives outlined how its research works and gave a detailed introduction to its well-being concepts.

In looking at the information presented, we realized this model allowed us to understand our members in a way we weren’t able to before, Kearns says.

One Does Not Simply Build A Survey

Affinity worked collaboratively with Gallup to create a survey that both gauged member engagement and well-being. According to Kearns, part of the value in working with Gallup lies in the robust database of responses that Affinity can access and use to benchmark against. But the data that comes out is only as good as the data that goes in, which is why Gallup requires all surveys include the same three-question member experience index to ensure valid benchmark comparisons. Members are asked to respond to the following:

  • Affinity always delivers on what it promises.
  • I feel proud to be an Affinity member.
  • Affinity is the perfect credit union for a member like me.

We can weigh our results against several decades of Gallup’s own research, Kearns says.

Video chats and conference calls between the two organizations helped shape the remainder of the survey. Because Gallup aims to capture moments of truth, questions aren’t focused on the emotional response to a recent service or experience. Instead, surveys dig into what makes a certain service or experience positive or negative. Affinity can then customize its questions based on what it wants to learn.

For example, if the credit union wants to survey members about a known service disruption, it could ask: Did you notice your recent disruption in service? How was your experience with Affinity’s handling of the issue? Or, in contrast, it could ask: Have you had a better experience with Affinity resolving service disruptions? Why or why not?

The former invites feedback the credit union already knows, the latter allows Affinity to elicit actionable insights from members.

Affinity is one of several credit unions that participate in the Gallup Financial Wellbeing (FWB) initiative. Based on its own well-being research of nearly 3 million U.S. adults, Gallup has identified five elements that people need to thrive. These elements are: career, social, financial, community, and physical.

In looking at the information presented, we realized this model allowed us to understand our members in a way we weren’t able to before.

Jacqui Kearns, Chief Brand Officer, Affinity FCU

As part of its participation in the FWB initiative and based on its role as a financial cooperative, Affinity has adopted these five elements into its own strategic planning and operations. For surveys, however, the credit union is more narrowly focused on financial well-being, asking for a member’s current and future outlook.

We gauge their confidence toward achieving their financial plan and have them consider why they are feeling that way, Kearns says. Is there a moment-in-time challenge, or is the challenge longer-term? We can then look at their relationship with us, layer in Gallup’s decades of research, and see how our members stack up against most Americans are they thriving, struggling, or suffering?

Initial survey results provided a depth of information as well as set a baseline from which the credit union can compare subsequent survey responses, which the credit union has plans to collect more frequently. In 2019, Affinity sent five surveys with an approximate population of 5,300 members in each. According to Kearns, Affinity plans to conduct surveys every two weeks in 2020 and can view responses in real time.

Surveying more frequently will help us learn and get better providing help and service to our members, Kearns says.

Results In Action

Once Affinity sends the survey and the results come back, the learning begins. The credit union benchmarks responses against Gallup’s historical records, which are broader than credit union industry insights, to highlight member-focused challenges and operational opportunities.

Gallup provides the benchmarking and we take care of the specifics, Kearns says.

Affinity has created three internal think tanks that each have representation from the front line, middle management, and executive teams. It shares the full results of the survey with each level because each group interacts with members differently, and the credit union wants to understand survey insights holistically. Once a survey uncovers a challenge, the whole organization has a say in finding a solution.

Although Affinity dedicated 2019 mostly to establishing the institutional mechanisms and expertise to send surveys and analyze results, it did identify one big theme: service disruptions cause the most pain, especially in digital channels. So, the credit union has increased its efforts to educate members in the event of a disruption and will re-evaluate vendor relationships to ensure greater stability.

We’re pushing back more to say, here are our members major pain points,’ Kearns says. If you can’t help with these, we’ll find someone who can.

In the coming year, Affinity hopes more frequent surveying will create a more consistent dialog between the credit union and its membership. And not just on the service side, either. Affinity recently asked Grant Gallager, the senior manager of financial well-being and external affairs, to take the lead on using Gallup research to assess whether the membership as a whole is thriving, struggling, or suffering. From there, a new internal effort dubbed the Institute for Financial Wellbeing will partner with other areas of the credit union to identify specific ways to improve that status across the entire membership as well as down to the individual member.

Learn how Gallup and Callahan are working with credit unions, like Affinity FCU, to drive member engagement and market differentiation.

We want to take that information and influence our front line culture, Kearns says. If a member is struggling, we want to learn more about the household. Can we better assist them with financial education? Better products and services? On the other hand, if they are thriving, how can we keep them that way?

To measure its success across the year, Affinity will track time spent in conversation per member in its CRM, Salesforce. It will also track overall growth in its membership’s thriving population. From there, Affinity plans to fold that well-being information into its overall member engagement score.

These are big changes, Kearns acknowledges. Changes that require reorienting internal culture to encourage employees to dig deeper into members’ lives. The buy-in is there, she says. The challenge lies in ensuring it remains there.

We’ve focused on the transactional side for so long that it’s easy to fall back into that routine, Kearns says. It has to be different now. We can’t just have substantial conversations when members open or close accounts. If we want to successfully implement behavioral economics, it has to be an everyday occurrence.


March 9, 2020

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