The rise of digital banking has been a boon for software vendors. Spending on digital banking platforms is expected to hit $28 billion in 2022 — comprising more than half of the global banking software market. Third-party vendors offer advantages such as continuous software updates and expertise in implementing new systems.
Unfortunately, there’s no out-of-the-box approach to software. Today, organizations typically have a mix of legacy and modern systems operating in the data center and the cloud. Each system has its own look and feel, which can be confusing and frustrating for members as they navigate through various transactions.
“You’re relying on digital product development design from your vendor to meet those jobs to be done by your consumer,” says Rich Scholes, chief experience officer at Ent Credit Union ($9.1B, Colorado Springs, CO). “We felt that probably isn’t the best way to be a differentiated financial institution and opted to go to the other extreme.”
Ent Credit Union is one of a small but growing number of credit unions now handling digital design in house. During the past year, Ent has put together a multidisciplinary experience design team and invested in cloud-based software to create a seamless experience for members who use mobile and online banking and call center services.
Even as Ent has expanded across the state in the past five years, it has set a goal of providing members with “small town kindness, large town sophistication.”
But Ent’s community focus only goes so far in today’s digital world, says Jeff Otero, Ent’s vice president of experience design and former Walt Disney imagineer leading the credit union’s effort.
“We’re aiming for the best of both worlds,” Otero says. “The sort of relationship a hometown credit union can offer married with the best technological experiences available today. Although consumers love the warm fuzzies they get from credit unions, they increasingly have high expectations for their technology experiences.”
A Human-Centric Approach
Experience design combines technical skills, UX design, and design thinking to create a human-centric approach to members and their “jobs to be done.” According to Otero, design is all about developing an empathetic understanding of members and their needs.
“Where are they in their financial journey?” Otero asks. “Where did they come from? How have their upbringing and their life experiences shaped their view of and relationship with money? Every time somebody chooses a software application or service to do something, they’re trying to get a job done.”
What’s A Job To Be Done?
Jobs To Be Done is a framework for determining what a member is really trying to accomplish when they use a credit union’s products or services. Learn more about this while developing the tools to meet the challenges of a disruptive world and building a practical framework for applying and managing these tools in Disruptive Strategy, a multi-faceted program that Callahan & Associates offers in collaboration with Harvard Business School Online.
Ent talks with its members and analyzes data on how they use the credit union’s services. It even tests new designs with “member ambassadors,” a group of 2,500 members who have signed up to try out the latest system enhancements. Otero says there’s no substitute for one-on-one feedback.
“We just had a great interview with a member in Denver yesterday,” the VP says. “She and her husband divide and conquer their finances. She’s been a member from childhood and he’s still with some bank. How they work that out, why she is loyal to Ent, and how they share the finances — hearing it in their own words, seeing their facial expressions, it starts to make it real.”
In the past, the credit union took a top-down approach to new functionality for online banking, with the credit union marketing, brand, and technology teams leading the charge. Now, Otero says, the goal is to consider the member’s perspective at every step — from the aesthetics of the app to how members navigate through the screens.
“It’s the difference between feeling like you’re being changed as a consumer and basically being resourced or guided as a consumer,” he says.
New Technology Platform
One of the key steps toward human-centric design was, ironically, a new technology platform. The credit union has been using Fiserv Architect for digital banking for years but is now moving to Backbase, a Dutch-based platform used by Barclays, Lloyd’s of London, and a number of other European companies. Backbase includes both a digital platform and a toolkit that users can easily customize to customer needs.
“It’s a toolkit that Jeff and our head of product can say, ‘Where do we want to just consume their commodity workflows, and where do we want to build a completely custom experience that embeds, say, financial education into the flow of account management?” experience officer Scholes says.
Ent’s technical organization is set up with three scrum teams using an agile software development approach. Each team embeds a product manager, designer, software developers, scrum master, quality assurance, and cybersecurity disciplines to quickly push out new features. Two scrum teams are currently focused on building out the Backbase functionality while the third is assigned to the Fiserv system and daily operations before the transition to the new platform, which Ent expects to complete in late 2023.
Scholes says Ent is among the second wave of credit unions to adopt the Backbase platform. Washington State Employee Credit Union ($4.6B, Olympia, WA) worked with the developer to fine-tune the system for the U.S. credit union market, and other first wave adopters include SchoolsFirst FCU ($28.1B, Tustin, CA) and Westerra Credit Union ($2.0B, Denver, CO).
Some credit unions are implementing Backbase off the shelf, whereas others, like Ent, are using the design tools to customize the experience. As Ent builds out the platform, Scholes says he can envision collaborating with multiple credit unions to share design and development expertise to create “one front end that services multiple memberships.”
“It’s silly that we’re all doing this in parallel across 50 states,” Scholes adds.
Early Wins For Design Thinking
Ent didn’t have to wait on the new system to apply design-thinking improvements for members. Earlier this year, the team took a hard look at the bill pay feature for online banking. Under a fairly customized software application, members had the option of paying multiple bills every month, but the app didn’t show them the total cost for their bills. A new feature now gives members a running total on screen as they pay their bills.
“If you wanted to figure out how much money you’re about to send out of your checking account, you had to do the math yourself,” Otero says. “It seems pretty obvious, I suppose, but it wasn’t there originally, and it was something people specifically talked about. We tried out some different things and saw that that’s what people wanted, so that was one of the changes we made.”
Another change under development involves making an extra principal payment on a loan. Members commonly make an extra payment without realizing their current payment is still due, and they don’t find out they’ve made a mistake until they’re hit with late charges. The design team is working on a notice in the app that warns members of such potential problems.
“It’s focusing on things that Apple and others are very good at,” Scholes says. “First, how easy can we make this for the consumer? Second, are the high-frequency pages easy to use, elegant, and modern? Third, is this within a pyramid of member delight? We have yet to see any financial institution really do a good job of embedding financial education coaching and guidance within the workflow of digital banking.”
Designing The Design Team
Otero joined Ent two years ago after moving to Colorado and readily admits he had no background in banking or credit unions.
“I come from a software background,” Otero says. “I was an architect who went to work for the Walt Disney Company and became an Imagineer and all that kind of fun stuff. So, I’ve got this weird, eclectic background to go on. It’s been an adventure.”
Since joining Ent, Otero has built a team that includes two experienced digital designers with digital marketing and software development backgrounds, a veteran member of Ent’s service center team, and a front-line member service representative who had spent most of his time on the telephone with members.
“Even though they’re learning design, they bring in a deep experience with members and the banking end of it that maybe those of us that don’t come from the banking industry don’t have,” Otero says. “Together, it all worked out really well.”
Rounding out the team, is a recently hired UX research analyst who focuses on insights from various data sources.
“So, it’s design background, research background, and banking background, but a lot of it has to do with a way of thinking, looking for people who can think people-first, human-centric design or can learn to think that way,” Otero says.
Scholes says Ent is fortunate the credit union has a good online reputation, which means the experience design team can move methodically through the process of rolling out a new, unified front end.
CU QUICK FACTS
ENT CREDIT UNION
DATA AS OF 06.30.22
HQ: Colorado Springs, CO
NET WORTH 10.1%
For example, Ent’s banking app maintains a 4.7 to 4.8 rating in app stores and has reached as high as 4.95 out of 5. Overall, he adds, the credit union’s net promoter score is also high, with member satisfaction in the low-80s. Ent is also conducting surveys on online banking, asking members about likes, dislikes, and what they’d like to see changed.
“Increasingly, we’re getting deeper and deeper metrics. Not just did they get what they wanted, but how quickly are they moving through screens?” Scholes says. “Which parts of our digital banking is nobody going to and don’t even know it’s under the services menu? Those are inputs we use to change the menu structure.”
Once the new system is ready for production, the next big step will be testing it with the members. Scholes also sees that as an iterative process, testing with member ambassadors and then expanding to the entire membership. The other key element to implementation will be training internal teams, interfacing with the CRM system, and ensuring service is a seamless process across digital, call centers, and branches.
Then, the credit union will focus on educating members about the digital services Ent offers.
“It surprises me how often a member takes on a checking account and doesn’t use all of what’s there,” Scholes says. “They’re already paying for the product or using the service, but they don’t know how much more value they could gain. So, it’s equal parts of deepening the relationship we have around an existing product as well as offering things that are going to improve members’ financial quality of life.”