By W.B. King
Sometimes the best way to achieve success is by recognizing weakness. This was the case for Wescom Credit Union when challenges were identified related to its ability to deliver best-in-class digital solutions to its 206,000-plus members.
“The previous website was built around 2011 and the decision to move forward with the new design was made in 2019,” said Wescom Credit Union Vice President of Digital Channels Eli Martinez. “The previous website was cluttered and it did not easily facilitate self-service for our visitors.”
The discovery process, Martinez explained, included related “calls to action” that were either missing or not immediately apparent.
“The website lacked search engine optimization (SEO). The navigation was poor, causing an inefficient responsive design,” he continued. “It also lacked the technology to build user personas and journeys and a content management system. All of these items were packaged as requirements for the redesign.”
The redesign was handled, for the most part, by 34 Wescom Credit Union employees from 12 departments, including digital channels, IT development, IT security, marketing, database administration and server administration.
“This was an internal project with the exception of vendors involved in bridging the technology to solve specific problems,” Martinez said. “Development, hosting, deployment, QA (quality assurance), UAT (user acceptance testing), content, images, hardware, training, how to videos…all efforts in creating the site and training staff were 100% internal.”
Where the $5.1 billion Pasadena, Calif.-based Wescom Credit Union did need outside help was with its user interface (UI)/user experience (UX) platform.
“The project included a full review of both financial and non-financial institution sites and mobile applications,” he said. “With our mobile-first strategy, we needed to ensure the mobile browser journey was carefully designed. The exercise yielded a long list of inspirational wants and don’t wants.”
Martinez further explained that research from a “benchmarking vendor” was also needed to “contrast our areas of opportunities with our strengths” across Wescom Credit Union and 10 other financial institutions.
Additionally, a content management system (CMS) vendor was hired to resolve problems related to effectively managing the website from the back end, thus allowing for the creation of a customized visitor experience, he said. Third-party partners also assisted with the website’s search engine capability and with related research reports for benchmarking purposes.
The UCLA Factor
The impetus for the new website was also due to Wescom Credit Union recently becoming the official banking partner of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) alumni. The website, for example, now features a seamless and easy way to apply for Bruin Edge and Bruin Choice Visa credit cards, which is a nod to the NCAA Division I athletic teams that represent UCLA.
“The redesign of the site was built with a plan to better support our UCLA relationship with short and long term tasks. The immediate task was laying the foundation for a new membership and credit card application for UCLA and prospective Wescom members, launched in July 2021,” said Martinez. “The longer term task, currently in the works, is to fully integrate the existing Wescom-UCLA microsite within the new technology build for wescom.org.”
After a successful member and employee beta test pilot, the website was officially launched in January 2021. Martinez said the testing period was beneficial as it identified bugs within the new technology stack, including the CMS.
“The newly designed website has a cohesive look and feel, between Wescom’s online banking and mobile applications for an improved member journey,” Martinez noted. “The website enhancements include integrated self-service technology to decrease the need for members and prospects to call or email Wescom for assistance or to go into the branch.”
For some members, Martinez said change was not immediately embraced, with one commenting, “Why change something that is not broken?” But he has also received messages such as: “One of the best banking websites I ever used — so advanced and easy to navigate.”
Overall the response has been positive, he added. “It takes time to accept and experience the full array of improvements and how it delivers a seamless innovative banking not just to Wescom members, potential members, and UCLA groups, but also our community. We have included in the redesign a fully integrated Wescom Foundation presence.” The foundation works to improve the lives of Southern Californians by supporting community-based organizations through strategic grant making and community engagement.
In 2021, traffic on Wescom Credit Union’s new website exceeded nine million sessions and more than 15 million page views.
“Our top visited page was the checking account page, followed by the mortgage and auto loan pages. Our membership growth has increased to 37.2% with online origination, from previously reported 33% [pre-launch],” he continued. “For our UCLA membership group, this has also increased to 88.46%, from the previously reported 77%. To date, we have opened more than 4,100 new [UCLA] memberships with corresponding credit cards and now, personal lines of credit.”
Analyze Your Membership
For credit unions looking to redesign an existing website, Martinez said the first step is documenting what your organization wants as well as what features aren’t needed.
“Analyze your membership and their holdings to structure the site. Include in this documentation your organization’s mission, vision and core values. The site should represent your core ideology in every interaction,” he said. “Take the time to find vendor partners that solve your specific problems and lock them in as early as possible. Involve both technical and front line teams to avoid a learning curve, to the extent that is realistic.”
Communication during the process is also critical, he added. All team members, he noted, should be aware of each incremental step being taken, so that the entire team (i.e., internally and externally) is following the same timeline.
“Build your project plan with all of the tasks you and your teams can think of in advance,” he said. “Test, beta test, preview, and listen to feedback. Categorize the issues by generic verses specific, as it will help you focus on what to fix, revisit and resolve first.”
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