By John San Filippo
The term “ecosystem” seems to be finding its way into more and more technology discussions lately. This includes the discussion that Finopotamus had with Co-op Solutions’ Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Commercialization Carrie Stapp at the recent CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.
“We're building out our ecosystem to help credit unions become more of a centralized hub for their members and to establish growth,” said Stapp. “What we're finding in all of the research that we've done is that consumer focus is really on payments and the digital tools that they need to basically live their daily lives. From Co-op's perspective, we're trying to figure out how to help credit unions large and small adapt along this digital transformation journey and be able to meet the changing needs of their members.” She added the consumers most often define their primary financial institution according to where they conduct most of their payment activity.
The challenge, said Stapp, is effectively serving credit unions of all sizes. “We have to look at scalability and how we build out solutions that can be scalable and nimble. Our solutions have to be forward thinking for the largest of the credit unions, but also affordable and realistic for the smaller credit unions.”
She said that it’s a balancing act trying to create the “advanced” features that a larger credit union would want, while making sure any product has all the “basic” features a smaller credit union would need.
Of course, to create a true ecosystem, all of these products must be able to function together in concert. “From an ecosystem perspective, we’re focusing on an API-centric design going forward,” said Stapp. The goal, she added, is to create a plug-and-play environment that allows credit unions to easily deploy the Co-op solutions they choose regardless of which core processing platform they’re running. She said this approach will allow credit unions to “evolve without having to make reinvestment.”
Stapp acknowledged that laying the groundwork for this strategy will take some effort. “We have a toolkit available to help with that development, if there’s any development needed for the integration,” she continued. “Whether it's the credit union’s developers using our toolkit or plugging into our team of experienced developers that know our technology, we can make it happen.”
Accommodating Member Lifestyle
“We're focused heavily on lifestyle enablement,” said Stapp, commenting on Co-op’s product mix. These include “products that help with family spending, point-of-sale purchasing, contactless P2P – we have all of those types of things.”
She noted that a big part of member lifestyle enablement is preventing and mitigating fraud. “As a credit union,” she said, “I have to ask, how do I manage all of the risk that is associated with fraud and identity theft without compromising the member experience with too many hoops and hurdles to jump through?”
According to Stapp, Co-op’s approach is to always consider the member’s perspective. “We’ve done a lot of research around the issues that consumers are looking to have solved in their daily lives,” said Stapp. She said that with different generations all spending money in different ways, families need a “centralized hub to bring all of that back together.”
Stapp explained that much of the value of being the “hub” comes from the data the credit union can collect. “You already see it with the Starbucks app, for example. They want you to load their card so that you buy through them,” she said. “But there's another reason: They want all that information. They want to know, and be able to use, all of that information to understand your buying habits and purchasing habits.”
She continued, “For the credit union, the important thing is to be the place where the money comes in and the place where the money goes out. It’s leaning into things like PayPal so that the credit union is still at the center of the transaction, regardless of whether the member is using another third-party provider to actually push that transaction. That’s how credit unions can stay ‘top of wallet.’”
Looking to the Future
Asked what lies ahead, Stapp said, “My opinion is that payments are eventually going to be the pathway to lending. We're seeing the emergence of buy now, pay later (BNPL) or pay-over-time transactions, watching how that's popping up at point of sale.” She also pointed to credit bureaus’ new focus on alternative credit data and online auto shopping as examples of “disruption” in the buying-lending cycle. “I think that the future of lending is being disrupted in front of our eyes.
In the end, it all comes down to member convenience, according to Stapp. “In our research, we looked beyond what products consumers want to what behaviors they’re trying to solve for,” she said. “Being a centralized hub definitely means one built for payment simplification.”
Using online shopping as an example, she continued, “If I have to go hunt down my card and retype my information, I'm going to abandon that cart every time. Everybody feels this way – every demographic, every age group. Those are the types of behaviors from their members that credit unions need to consider when evaluating new technology. That’s the definition of member centric.”