Building connection in digital channels

Guest Editorial by Shanon McLachlan, President, Symitar


Credit unions are thinking digitally. The pandemic has forced them to shift everything to the digital channel. Some credit unions were ready like Cornerstone Community Financial, but others were not. As we return to a sense of normalcy, digital service is here to stay. While Covid-19 has created new opportunities for members to relocate or work remotely, it has also challenged credit unions to re-evaluate their service models. Digital will be key to retaining members and growing existing markets. As members consider other financial institutions, they’ll be inclined to stay if the credit union can deliver the same in-branch experience in a digital channel and if this channel is the same or better than alternatives. A strong digital presence will accommodate members who want to bank digitally, have relocated, and/or raised their expectations of service.

Shanon McLachlan, President, Symitar

It’s an exciting time as credit unions translate the same relationship, service, and support that they are known for into digital channels. Members believe credit unions have the potential to do more to help them navigate these challenging times, such as offering a safer way to bank and transact digitally. These credit unions are providing a digital experience that competes with the largest financial institutions and other industry disruptors, including neobanks and non-bank alternatives. This is accomplished by facilitating meaningful interactions at members’ moment of need and relevance in a digital context.


Strengthening relationships and building trust digitally begins with establishing and reinforcing a connection. In the simplest terms, credit unions help people by connecting members to relevant financial products and services, resolving financial problems with guidance and advice, and being a resource to their community. This connection continues to be challenged in new ways. For example, Netflix and Spotify creates a seamless experience across devices, enabling consumers to pick up wherever they left off. Or consider how Uber offers a fast, easy-to-use service that has revolutionized ridesharing. Amazon and Google have also set high expectations for digital experiences to be personal, intuitive, and easy. Amazon is offering relevant products and services based on previous purchases and searches, it is intentional about personalization efforts. And Google seamlessly embeds its services in the lives of today’s consumers through frictionless app-based experiences such as Google Maps. This proves that companies are competing for the time and attention of your members, collecting data, and gaining their trust.


However, in the financial realm, we’re dealing with more important issues than buying electronics or ridesharing. Credit unions are helping members shape their finances, the foundation upon which they are building their hopes and dreams. This calls for a higher level of support and customization. The credit union’s digital connection isn’t limited to channel technology but offering personal digital support that can transfer from a laptop to phone to branch with ease.


Credit unions today are partnering with technology providers to offer fast and seamless digital experiences, launching their mobile banking apps within one second and two seconds for browsers. That’s faster than many big banks! Not to mention, these credit unions are also opening new accounts, offering loans, and transferring funds – just as quickly. Now, combine this speed with the personal touch and trust that differentiates them, and your credit union is leading the way. These experiences happen more often than you think. If a member suspects fraud, misplaces their card or wants loan information, they should be able to easily communicate with someone from their credit union who can offer relevant and timely support in the context of their unique problem. This is how credit unions exceed the expectations set by popular consumer brands while improving the financial lives of their members. Consumers may have their financial needs met by Google or Amazon, but financial institutions’ biggest competitive differentiator is meeting these needs with personal service.


Applying the Netflix or Spotify example to credit unions, members want to pick the conversation back up without starting an entirely new one. Michigan’s Cornerstone Community Financial recognizes the importance of delivering an easy, intuitive, and convenient digital banking experience with self-service tools and support through a “chat with us” feature. The progressive $353 million asset credit union has six physical branches and relies heavily on its digital presence for growth. Investing in digital technology enables them to better compete, gain new membership, increase loyalty and engagement across new and existing markets. Because Cornerstone Community Financial’s leadership makes digital a top priority, the credit union was equipped with the necessary tools to serve its members throughout the pandemic and beyond.


Their investment in digital technology has paid off tremendously. Cornerstone Community Financial started with 521 fully augmented and secure chat conversations in its first month of the offering – nine months later during the nationwide lockdown, it was meeting needs with 2,000 conversations per month. Now, the credit union averages 1,500 new conversations monthly, and call center volume has decreased by 5% per month. Members can chat with their local representatives about anything from payment information and reminders to scheduling appointments and follow-ups. These chats have also been used to feed other lines of business, solidifying relationships from the beginning of the onboarding process as well as helping with collections. Support is made easy with response times during business hours averaging only two minutes, without having to add more resources to the call center.


Cornerstone Community Financial provides a consistent member experience across all channels while leveraging authenticated chat to communicate and interact in real-time. Because of this, 84% of members are enrolled in digital banking, 58% actively use digital banking compared to the industry’s average of 32-39%, and 93% return within 30 days. Such engagement is further proof that members enjoy the digital experience. The credit union continues to grow its membership and build deeper connections digitally.


Covid-19 accelerated the adoption of digital banking while simultaneously increasing consumer expectations. The Amazon’s and the Google’s of the world showed that they could be there for their consumers, even more than they had before. Credit unions are rising to t