How To Reduce Friction In The Member Experience (And Why It Matters)

Members compare their credit union experience against all other service providers, and anything but a seamless experience can have a dramatic impact on the relationship.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Civic Federal Credit Union’s digital-first strategy provides a seamless member experience, especially during online account opening.
  • Orange County’s Credit Union has been journey mapping its member experience and acting on member feedback for many years across all channels.

Advancements in technology and changes in consumer expectations have prompted many a retailer, including more than a few credit unions, to redouble their efforts toward improving the customer experience.

At conferences, during roundtables, and in strategic planning sessions with credit unions across the country, leaders at Callahan & Associates have noted several recurring themes that the firm has identified as opportunities for 2019. One of those themes: How can credit unions reduce friction in their member experience?

Why Does Friction Matter?

Alix Patterson, Partner, Callahan & Associates

Members compare their credit union experience to all the unrelated, best-in-class service providers they interact with on a regular basis. When a member expects an Amazon-like experience, even the slightest perception of friction with the credit union can have a dramatic impact on the relationship.

When members hit roadblocks in the user experience, the credit union is more likely to lose them over time, says Alix Patterson, partner at the Washington, DC-based credit union consulting firm Callahan & Associates.

Patterson herself has experienced friction in the member experience and, despite being a credit union advocate and an active member, understands why consumers don’t always choose one for their personal needs.

It’s not always the rate or even the mobile channel, Patterson says. It boils down to the personal experience. People are willing to pay a premium for experiences. The longer it takes to complete an online loan application, for example, the more likely a member is to abandon it. Other providers can poach members by helping them through a process or making something easier even if that provider’s rates or fees are slightly higher.

A Better Digital Experience

Pete VanGraafeiland, Head of Member Services, Civic FCU

Civic Federal Credit Union ($5.1M, Raleigh, NC) is a digital-first credit union chartered in December 2017. Pete VanGraafeiland, head of member services for the new cooperative, said the credit union went through the account opening process of at least 15 different credit unions to determine what it wanted in its own member experience.

We set out to learn what others are doing and identify the best options to incorporate into our own online account opening process, VanGraafeiland says.

One notable difference across the processes was whether a member could actually open an account online. Some credit unions allowed new members to start the process online but then required them to visit a branch to sign paperwork. Others allowed new members to complete the entire process online. This is the experience Civic FCU’s team desired.


I opened one account online without signing anything because the institution had robust verification tools and used my digital footprint to identity me, VanGraafeiland says. That was a great experience.

The Civic FCU team also uncovered differences in the types of accounts new members can open online. Some credit unions allow new members to open only deposit accounts initially; others allow new members to also complete loan applications.

Civic FCU focused primarily on the member experience and the time it took to complete the application, with a goal of completing the personal account process in five minutes and business account process in 20 minutes, but the team also discussed credit reports at length.

To pull credit, or not to pull credit, that is the question, VanGraafeiland says.

The team had different opinions on whether the credit union should pull credit reports for members opening only a deposit account. It ultimately decided to pull credit for loan applicants and ask deposit-only applicants if they’d like to see if they qualify for a loan. Only then does the credit union pull a credit report.

Civic is still fine-tuning its online account opening experience and has already optimized it for mobile devices. It breaks up required information into easily digestible bites, with some pages requiring only one or two fields to make the process simpler.

Without any branches, we have to do everything electronically, VanGraafeiland says. Our strategy is to allow members to do everything easily and securely from their phone, tablet, or laptop.

Lastly, VanGraafeiland notes that many credit unions have beautifully designed websites that seemingly disappear when prospective members click on the Open an Account link, which redirects to a white-labeled site that looks completely different.

We want members to have a great experience throughout the process, VanGraafeiland says. This includes not feeling like they are leaving the main credit union website to open an account.

One Viewpoint Across the Organization


Orange County’s CU
Data as of 09.30.18

HQ: Santa Ana, CA
MEMBERS: 109,104
ROA: 1.20%

Orange County’s Credit Union ($1.6B, Santa Ana, CA) aligns around easing pain points in the member experience. The cooperative has been mapping the member experience since 2015 and using an organizationwide net promoter program to resolve pain points.

Every branch manager or department has their own method of going through the member journey, says Azul Sanchez, associate vice president and regional branch manager. Our executive team also reviews every single member comment and looks for patterns that we can learn from.

Azul Sanchez, AVP/Regional Branch Manager, Orange County’s Credit Union

Such member feedback has led to simple fixes, such as removing an unpopular Coinstar fee and forming a committee to reduce check holds, as well as more complex projects including an online and mobile banking conversion. Orange County’s Credit Union also is replacing all of its ATMs in 2019 because of member pain points.

The credit union doesn’t limit its member experience comparison set to the financial industry, though. It has asked member service representatives to visit financial and non-financial organizations alike to witness firsthand their customer experience and bring back ideas to the credit union .

We are continuously looking at what others are doing whether an online bank or a non-financial retailer and learning from that, Sanchez says. We don’t have a traditional hierarchy here. Our CEO instills the collaborative spirit in all of us. Everyone contributes ideas, regardless of title.

The credit union’s focus on member experience has resulted in exciting changes internally as well. Amber Cisneros recently took charge of the member experience as vice president of member and community engagement, and Donald Carazo, vice president of loan servicing and collections, is now overseeing the member experience program from a support channel standpoint.

There have been so many positive changes related to the member experience, Sanchez says. We all get to be a part of the decisions that impact our members.


March 28, 2019

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