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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Backbase Engage 2021 Takeaway: Credit Unions Must Shift to a Member-Centered Digital Journey

Featuring an Inside Look at Washington State Employees Credit Union's Experience

By W.B. King

Nearly 4,000 attendees from 130 countries came together remotely at this year’s Backbase Engage 2021 conference. In total, 1,214 companies were represented with attendees discussing wide-ranging banking topics.

“It’s not always smooth sailing,” Backbase CEO and Founder Jouk Pleiter said of digital banking during his keynote speech. “But at the end of the day we have the same mission and are in the same boat.”

The Amsterdam-based conference host offers retail, SMS, corporate and wealth management digital-first banking solutions. Counted among its 120-plus clients are Navy Federal Credit Union and Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU).

The Platform Era

Acknowledging that platforms like Uber and Netflix have disrupted all industries and are in the process of “crushing incumbent players,” Pleiter said, “I think we all know here that this threat is happening right now in banking.”

The traditional banking model will not survive, he added, and the digital banking model, as consumers understand it today, will also soon come to an end.

“A poor IT architecture that has been basically duct-taped over the last four decades will not be the right platform to survive in the platform era,” he said. “So instead, we have to move to a new paradigm.”

For banks and credit unions to survive over the next decade, Pleiter explained that the member or customer has to be placed in the center of the digital banking platform. And while he added that this appears to be a simplistic goal, the majority of traditional banking applications are “architected” around the financial institution’s channels and products, not the consumer.

Backbase CEO and Founder Jouk Pleiter.

“The model is quite simple,” Pleiter said pointing to a graphic featuring a customer in the center of a series of concentric circles. “In the second circle, the customer can select any device at any moment or at any time and in any context. And on the outer circles we organize the right capabilities to the right customer at the right moment — powering seamless customer journeys on a single platform.”

WSECU’s Journey

Over the last eight-plus years, Pleiter said Backbase has been singularly focused on removing friction from the customer journey. Conceding that this strategy requires a massive paradigm shift, he said that Backbase’s engagement banking platform, with over 60 features, is equal to the challenge.

“It provides all the core engines and capabilities to streamline any customer journey in banking,” he said. “We take one single platform and on that platform we are going to orchestrate all the customer’s interactions and with the same platform and same capabilities we empower your employees. One platform for customers and employees to collaborate in real-time as needed.”

Recently, the $3 billion Olympia, Wash.-based WSECU migrated over 165,000 of its members to Backbase’s “future-proof” retail banking solution.

“The goal from the outset of our partnership was to create a consistent, easy and secure experience for members when using any of the credit union’s digital banking properties,” noted WSECU’s President and CEO Gary Swindler. “We needed a long-term partner that could help us shape and execute that vision.”

The process included replacing WSECU’s existing online and mobile banking solutions with one omnichannel banking solution. A snapshot from July 2020 included the number of active digital users hitting a record high number of 700,000. And throughout the pandemic, this digital-first, proactive solution has allowed the credit union to quickly respond to the changing needs of its members.

WSECU’s Ben Morales.

“It can be such hard work to make big changes. We knew we had to stay focused on the goal to deliver members a more seamless, uniform way for them to manage their money,” said WSECU’s Chief Technology and Operations Officer Ben Morales. “The state-of-the-art solutions, agile way of working and level of experience we got with Backbase has set us up to be able to provide that to members for years to come.”

Staying Ahead of Market Needs

The success of the Backbase was also recognized in 2020 by the analyst firm Celent, which gave the company awards in four categories: technology, functionality, customer base and service.

“One of the biggest differentiators [of the Backbase platform] is the flexibility of the digital banking platform (DBP) and its software development kits (SDKs) and the completeness of vision around the use of application programming interfaces (APIs),”stated Celent Senior Analysts Bob Meara and Stephen Greer who co-authored the report, “The Modern Digital Banking Channels Platform: Who Delivers?”

Noting its Backbase-as-a-Service and Backbase Stream solutions, Meara and Greer added that Celent is “impressed with their ability to keep ahead of the market needs.” They continued. “There is a reason why banks of all sizes in geographies across the globe continue to rely on Backbase as the provider of its digital services. It’s a perennial winner of industry awards and should be on every bank digital platform shortlist.”

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