Purpose + Data = A New Take On Product Development

Research and reflection drives a new lineup of products and services at Seattle Credit Union.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Seattle Credit Union uses internal as well as external data to design products for specific subsets within its membership.
  • To generate new ideas and brand recognition, the credit union also works with community resources.

Seattle Credit Union ($896.4M, Seattle, WA) is using data-driven design to create new loans and services in a way that goes beyond the gut but still retains theheart.

The 265,000-member institution is using the targeted branding and marketing services of an outside agency in combination with its own Power BI insights to launch, target, market, and track offerings that range from loans geared toward cyclists and rentersto programs aimed at accommodating the needs of new Americans.

Building A Data-Driven Framework

Tonita Webb, SCU’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, says the business intelligence initiative began a few years ago with the idea of putting data at the center of service strategy.

Tonita Webb, EVP and COO, Seattle Credit Union

Our mission is to provide premium, personalized service for our community, Webb says. By leveraging internal data, as well as publicly accessible data sources such as the census, we have a much better understanding of what our communityand members need.

According to the executive, the first step in SCU’s new decision-making process is to look at the data and trust what it shows as opposed to working off of a gut feeling.

Many of our workflows are designed with data and analytics at the forefront: goals, performance, and information available in real time, Webb says.

SCU uses Power BI as well as easily understood dashboards to ensure information is accessible across the enterprise and applied to decision-making.

We built most of our dashboards with the end user in mind, Webb says. Our data analysts work side by side with department managers and staff, which creates a great working partnership and dashboards that serve a purpose.

The Products ARE The Message

Most recently, SCU engaged Twenty Four 7, a Portland, OR, creative agency, to help with an outreach campaign targeting the whole Seattle community. Along with identifying potential new products, the effort reinforced the value of using data to strengthenbranding.


Seattle Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.20

HQ: Seattle, WA
ASSETS: $896.4M
MEMBERS: 264,996
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -0.8%
ROA: 0.24%

Leading with data empowers companies to pursue bold, creative new avenues with confidence, a Twenty Four 7 spokesperson tells CreditUnions.com. It builds authenticity within your brand and a foundation for deeply connecting with customers.

For SCU, the creative agency adds, a data-driven framework eliminates guesswork, which leads to more cost-effective operations and a higher likelihood of delivering desired returns.

There’s a lot of upside, but it’s not easily achieved.

The challenge and opportunity is to put ourselves in the shoes of others, Webb says. To let go of old-style banking, pay attention to what our communities are experiencing, and ask them what they need instead of assuming we alreadyknow. It requires us to let go of all we think we know.

Three loans, in particular, demonstrate how SCU has started better tailoring its products for citizens traditionally underrepresented and underserved by financial institutions:

  • Citizenship loans: SCU worked with the City of Seattle to design a loan that helps cover the costs of fees, medical examinations, and other requirements forthose applying for U.S. citizenship.
  • ITIN issuer and loan products: SCU worked with the El Centro dela Raza advocacy and support organization to gear loan products toward those without a social security numberwho can use an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) as an alternative form of identification.
  • Alternative lending for Muslims: When the Somali community in Seattle was looking for lending products that complied with their religious beliefs concerning usury, SCU responded with this interest-free auto loan program.

According to Webb, since the rollout of these programs in November 2019, the credit union has received 191 applications in total for its Renter’s Loan, Cycle Loan, and Sweet 16 Car Loan. It has funded 53 renter’s loans for $156,516, four cycle loans for $9,200, and five Sweet 16 car loans for $46,000.

To date, no one has applied for the interest-free loan since its inception on Sept. 1, 2020, but generating small loans at a credit union nearing a billion dollars in assets is not always the point. The availability of these new products and servicesand the effort SCU has put forth to bring them to market says a lot about the credit union’s place in its community.

It sets us apart because it touches those in our communities that might not fit into a standard banking model or who have been excluded from the mold altogether, Webb says. This speaks to our brand and what we continually work onto improve from the inside out.

Tips For Credit Unions

Webb says other credit unions can take on the important work of serving specific, unrepresented subsets within their memberships even better if the credit union can make a meaningful impact on these members and improve their lives or financialstanding.

A Pacific Northwest credit union shares lessons it learned during its eight-year journey taking a holistic view of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Learn more in How To Build A Diverse Board.

The SCU executive boils it all down to three steps that might sound simple but are far from easy.

  • Forget what you think you know.
  • Ask, What is it that you need?
  • Be consistent with the message through the organization, its vendors and partners, and your processes.

Webb says product evaluation at SCU is an ongoing process, and the big cooperative will continue, drop, and add products based on how well they fit community needs.

The goal is to create awareness of their availability, Webb says. And, to provide lower-cost financing alternatives than what they might receive elsewhere.


November 2, 2020

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