By W.B. King
While the pandemic forced many credit unions to quickly institute automated technologies, Cornerstone Community Financial Credit Union (CCF) has long taken a member-centric view on which forward-leaning tech solutions to offer.
“Our onward and upward mindset is what gets us to where we are,” says CCF’s President and CEO Heidi Kassab. “There’s a certain demographic that relies on it, so we have to be looking ahead to the next biggest and best thing. We want to be sure that our digital experience is as good or better than the big bank.”
The $372 million Auburn Hills, Mich.-based credit union’s digital-first approach is informed, in part, by its younger-than-average management team, noted Kassab. CCF’s two youngest vice presidents are 35 and 36. Before assuming these positions, they began their respective careers at the credit union in other roles. Overall, CCF’s vice president team age range is from 35 to 48, with an average age of 42.
“These younger team members [ages 35 and 36] oversee marketing and operations – two areas requiring lots of digital know-how, flexibility and innovation,” said Kassab, adding that CCF has 95 employees. “My management style focuses heavily on demonstrated skill, drive and promoting from within. While I didn’t originally set out to have a younger management team, about half of my current vice president team grew up from different roles within the company.”
Noting that talent can come from any age group, Kassab said in CCF’s case, this younger-than-average management team has enabled the credit union to better connect with the digital-leaning millennial and Gen Z demographics.
“As banking becomes increasingly digital, the youthfulness and tech-savviness of my team is a huge asset and enables CCF to be competitive, and even ahead of the curve, in our digital capabilities,” Kassab said.
Rolling Out Banno Conversations
In September 2018, CCF was interested in streamlining conversations with its approximate 26,000 members. This discovery process led to Jack Henry Digital’s Banno Conversations solution, a fully authenticated message chain between the end-user and a support team that has full access to member accounts, payments and transactions.
After a “quiet” rollout in January 2019, Kassab said CCF offered the solution to all members in March of the same year.
“We heavily promoted it to our membership in-branch, online and even on our on-hold messages. Throughout the pandemic, the Conversations feature has been a big help to our staff since it’s a contact-free and secure way to communicate with the membership and receive important documents,” Kassab said.
Jack Henry’s Senior Managing Director of Digital Julie Morlan explained that roughly 150 credit unions are using Banno Conversations. CCF was among the first credit unions to roll out the solution, which was due, in part, to Kassab being an “active and influential member” on Jack Henry’s Digital Advisory Board.
“Our credit unions appreciate how tightly integrated Conversations is with our cores, which enables employees and account holders to easily attach accounts and transactions to a conversation, bringing immediate context to a service inquiry,” explained Morlan. “Because these authenticated chats can be augmented with contextual elements, employees have a full understanding of the relationship and financial problem, delivering personal service and trust in moments of need and relevance.”
To ensure a smooth roll out, Morlan further explained Jack Henry has created “a robust set of resources and documentation,” including best practice recommendations and training “on how to prepare your support agents and front-office employees to handle initial volume and create workflows to handle incoming conversations effectively.”
Credit unions that involve employees across various departments in the planning and training processes have experienced smoother rollouts, Morlan said. “We’d recommend this approach over a siloed rollout for institutions new to Conversations.”
During CCF’s Phase 1 roll out, for instance, Kassab said the operations team worked directly with Jack Henry to build the wire frame and embed the feature within online and mobile banking. After the initial install, she noted that Phase 2 looked at branding, functionality and sorting out bugs.
“In Phase 3, the operations team created training modules and ‘best case’ practices for different scenarios to help the staff successfully navigate the new feature. During the soft rollout, staff was introduced to Conversations and we trained extensively,” she said. “Finishing touches and final bugs were worked out of the system and we did a wide-scale launch to the membership. Conversations are now an important part of our suite of connection options and a unique differentiator.”
Text by Numbers
While the number of CCF members using Banno Conversation has increased month-over-month since launch, the pandemic boosted statistics, which is a trend Kassab believes will continue.
“We anticipate many pandemic-era habits to continue as we move forward, so [Banno] Conversations offers members an easy, secure, germ-free and personalized way to complete their banking,” Kassab said.
In August 2021, for example, CFF was averaging 1,500 Banno Conversations per month. The total conversations in 2021 were 50,127. As of February 2022, that monthly figure rose to 4,100 conversation per month or 170 per day.
“On average, 80% of conversations start within the mobile app, 20% from online banking,” Kassab said, adding that these “conversations” are like “texting” a friend.
Members, she noted, are trained to use the solution. “We load the app on their phones and show them how to use it,” she said. “We start the first conversation by sending them onboarding materials.”
CCF’s digital team, which handles all Banno Conversations during business hours, is comprised of three staff members. A team member generally responds within 15 minutes of contact, although the average response time is currently three minutes. The most common topics are transaction questions, balance inquiries and account maintenance.
“The bulk of messages arrive between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Conversations is a hybrid between email and chat, so sometimes members respond to us right away, or they can take days to respond, so it varies. We try our best to gather the info and respond as soon as possible,” Kassab said. “During business hours, we have three rotating staffers dedicated to answering conversations, in addition to a few branch staff who hop on when we have higher volumes. Each staffer fields around 30 to 50 conversations each day.”
In an effort to underscore the effectiveness of the solution, Kassab explained that a member started a Banno Conversation after becoming upset about “courtesy pay fees” from “bills pulling early” due to December holidays.
“We were able to cross-sell online bill pay so the member could be in control of when the bills are paid, as well as a Visa credit card to lower his fees and interest rates on some higher-rate cards he was paying off,” she said. “The conversational nature of the feature allows the staff to have a much more natural digital interaction with the member, getting permissions and receiving applications securely behind a firewall instead of having to email, call or have the member physically come into a branch to complete these processes.”
CCF’s growth rates for digital login have also spiked. Before going live with Banno Conversation in 2019, there were 1,199,395 logins. In March 2021, the figure jumped to 2,653,304, which represents a 121% increase. And by December 2021, Kassab said there was an average of 12,648 logins per day.
As a result of more members turning to Banno Conversations, incoming call volumes are dropping, explained Kassab. From 2020 to 2021, for instance, there was, on average, 400 fewer calls per month, which allowed CCF to decrease after-hours phone support.
“As a result of the move away from telephone conversations communications about ACH and wire transfers all happen through Conversations now,” she said.
Conversations, Security and Advice
Jack Henry’s Morlan said those credit unions interested in exploring the solution should “take time to rethink or reimagine the member journey before determining how to structure the team or teams who will respond.”
The structure a credit union has in place for answering incoming calls, for example, may not turn out to be the best fit for “asynchronous” chat, she said.
“We recommend considering your own service level agreements and sharing expected turnaround times with your members. Poll your front lines and member services staff to gather common inquiries and use their feedback to build pre-build saved replies that your team can use to quickly respond to frequent questions,” Morlan offered. “Revisit your chat logs on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to update your saved responses, to keep your service teams equipped with consistent and useful responses.”
In Kassab’s view, one of the best features of Banno Conversations is its security. To this end, she noted that all communications and file transfers happen behind a secure firewall. “While text message and chats are also convenient, options are limited due to unsecured nature of delivery.”
Kassab added that the solution is also simple to use, regardless of age or tech abilities.
“It’s easily accessed through both the CCF app and online banking. Plus, records are kept within the feature, so both staff and member can refer back to any Conversation,” she said. “Conversations is a great way to offer one-on-one personalized service to members. Excellent customer service is hard to find, but ultimately, it’s what sets CCF apart in a sea of competition, and lets our members know how much we value them.”
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