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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Ignite Sales Offers Marketing Advice to Credit Unions: Strike the Balance Between AI and the Human Touch

By W.B. King

To remain competitive in today’s banking environment, marketing strategies must emphasize consumer-centricity, personalized experiences, omnichannel integration and the agility to quickly adapt to ever-changing consumer preferences.

These assertions are among insights Ignite Sales Co-Founder and CMO Barbie Boe shared with Finopotamus.

“The rise of data analytics and marketing automation platforms has enabled marketers to gather insights, personalize messaging and optimize campaigns for better targeting and ROI,” Boe said. “Marketing has become much more technical, and science focused. Data and artificial intelligence (AI), with focus, will be the key to marketing going forward and must be part of all financial institutions’ road maps to stay competitive.”

Barbie Boe

The marketing industry, she noted, has changed considerably since she and her co-founder, Julie Hamrick, launched Ignite Sales in 1997.

“Our vision was to create a software as a service company (SaaS) that would provide financial institutions (FIs) with the capabilities to guide online customers and members through a complete personal financial management process and lead them to appropriate products,” Boe shared.

By embracing “decision tree science” along with “compelling engagement design,” the Dallas-based company landed its first FI in 1999. And while the first credit union client wasn’t onboarded until 2017, today the company, which today supports more than 50 employees, also counts more than 50 FIs as customers.

Guided by a Software Pioneer

If not for Allen “Al” Dwight Fleener, Ignite Sales’ future would have been less certain. Beginning his career as one of the first computer salespeople at NCR Corporation, Fleener would go on to direct the sales growth for numerous technology companies.

“Our mentor and champion is the man who funded our company from the start — Al Fleener. He instilled drive, passion, tenacity and a ‘never fail’ attitude in us since our birth,” Boe reflected. “Al was our father and as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We understand that innovation for change and advancement must be top of mind to move the needle forward for our clients today and into the future.”

Accentuating the “people helping people” ethos, Boe said Ignite’s mission is to guide members to “wise financial choices” and help credit unions become their member’s primary FI.

“Ignite Sales’ patented data-driven AI sales engagement platform digitally empowers financial institutions and self-service users for significant performance impact,” she explained.

Whereas AI-driven marketing campaigns could give pause to credit unions, many of which do not want to lose the “human touch” with members, Boe said AI should be considered a support tool, not part of a workforce replacement theory.

“For those new to AI, applying it to sales functions is an excellent place to start and can significantly impact a credit union’s performance, while ensuring their members’ needs are met,” she explained. “Using AI to make operations more efficient means reducing costs; not cutting employees. Our AI-driven conversations allow credit unions’ front lines to engage with members efficiently and effectively with greater ROI outcomes.”

AI, Boe contends, can streamline credit union marketing and sales operations, both member-facing and back office.

“It ensures a more productive conversation by prompting the most relevant questions a credit union should ask while handling all of the intricate calculations and criteria matching to ensure accurate product selections,” Boe said. “This allows staff to focus their attention on building meaningful, personal connections with prospects and members during their branch visit.”

Testing the AI Theory  

Recently, Ignite Sales partnered with The Filene Research Institute to evaluate the ability of the company’s “digital guide” and how it drives change for credit unions. Filene engaged indirect members and staff at eight geographically diverse credit unions of various asset sizes throughout the nation.

“After a three-month pilot, Filene interviewed and surveyed credit union leadership to provide qualitative feedback on integrating our offering,” Boe offered.

The Filene Research Institute report findings included:

  • Efficient Engagement: The platform led to quicker member conversion to second products and showed high engagement and click-through rates, particularly with survey features and autoresponder emails.

  • Enhanced Onboarding: It facilitated clear and direct communication, improving the onboarding process.

  • Useful Tracking and Personalization: The tracking dashboard and personalized recommendations were highly valued.

  • Increased Website Traffic: A noted increase to the credit union’s website highlighting the ability to boost awareness of the various products and services available.

“The pilot also revealed opportunities to increase interest in products beyond just savings and checking, sparking ideas for new campaigns,” Boe added.

Mastering the Art of Sales

Regardless of medium — in-branch, online, virtual or an AI platform — effective marketing and sales campaigns are dependent upon certain variables, Boe said.

These include “identifying and understanding a prospect or current member’s needs and showing how the credit union can fulfill those needs with the right products and services,” she said. Oftentimes, that’s easier said than done, Boe added.

“Credit unions must dig to uncover what a prospect’s financial goals are, what triggered their need and understand the timing of their needs,” she continued. “This involves asking the right combination of questions and in the right sequence to uncover their financial needs and long-term goals.”

Not all member insights, however, can be harvested by standard data points alone, Boe said. “Some needs are best revealed through conversation.” And it’s a credit union’s ability to relate to membership in a genuine manner that differentiates credit unions from other FIs, she offered.

“Credit unions have the advantage of being known as more personable, relatable and accommodating,” she said. “That’s a huge advantage in the age of personalization. All they need is technology to help them show it off to members on a daily basis.”

Boe added that while fintech partnerships are “under closer scrutiny these days,” the NCUA has emphasized the important role fintechs can play in the credit union space, which should signal confidence.

“Not all fintechs are the same,” she continued. “It is crucial to partner with companies that understand the industry and the regulatory implications, and who demonstrate a strong commitment to credit unions.”


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