The Journey Toward a New Normal: Credit Union Trends to Watch in the Second Half of 2021

guest editorial


By Gary Lee, Chief Client Officer, Member Driven Technologies (MDT)


As the world tries to find its footing in this new equilibrium, the financial services show must go on. Credit unions are actively adapting their roadmaps, operating models and service strategies to best support members’ evolving needs and expectations during this dynamic time and into the future.


Gary Lee

As institutions strive to remain relevant and successfully compete in the second half of 2021 and beyond, those that are successful will identify and leverage their true differentiators, offer a balanced digital and physical service model to fulfill all members’ needs and continue providing strong, relevant support to members and their communities as they look to recover from a period of economic stress and uncertainty.


Making digital a differentiator


There has been a significant increase in the use of digital since the onset of the pandemic. For instance, our credit union clients at MDT have experienced a 40% uptick in new digital users since March of 2020. This sustained surge in digital usage has forced credit unions to more narrowly focus on


their digital strategies. As new and innovative technology continues to emerge, it’s critical to be able to adapt quickly to meet members’ needs. Those that invest in modern, open infrastructure that enables nimble innovation and easy integration to best of class fintech partners will be able to maintain top member service.


The pandemic has demonstrated that members not only crave a seamless digital banking experience, but also personal interactions within this channel that mirror what previously occurred in branch. Credit unions are known for their human touch and relationship focus, a key differentiator that shouldn’t be abandoned. Those that are able to humanize the digital experience, through tools like live chat, texting and video conferencing, will be well-poised to boost member satisfaction and loyalty even in a digital-first world.


Balancing digital and physical experiences


In addition to evaluating digital strategies, credit unions should also lend a careful eye to their branch strategies as member behavior continues to shift. While digital has quickly become the preferred way to bank for many, the branch is and will remain a critical channel. But, it must evolve. It’s time to find new ways to blend humans and technology, offering convenient interactions in-branch.


With that being said, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach won’t work; each credit union’s service strategy should be unique to their individual member bases’ needs and preferences, so institutions are taking different approaches to their branch strategy. Beyond this, credit unions’ strategies for each of their individual branches may also vary, since they’re serving different communities across various geographic locations; all branches in a credit union’s network likely won’t operate the same.


Combining humans and digital within the branch provides members the option to choose which method they prefer for their banking. For instance, some credit unions are investing more heavily in ITMs to offer broader self-service options, while others are adopting a curbside service approach to members who want that in-person human interaction but prefer staying in their car. And, many institutions are shifting to an appointment-only model, allowing face-to-face interactions to discuss more complex topics such as loan/mortgage closings, financial literacy, investments and budgeting while still allowing for controlled social distancing.


The key is to find the right balance between digital and physical channels for each credit union’s unique situation and needs.


Offering meaningful member support


Perhaps the most significant differentiator for credit unions as an industry is their ‘people helping people’ mentality; as the world slowly opens back up, credit unions are distinctively positioned to identify new, creative ways to serve and support their members and community. Special attention should be paid to the underserved, underbanked and no credit population, as they need financial support more than ever. Credit unions across the country are stepping up to the plate, offering relevant solutions like budgeting tools to help build financial wellness, skip-a-pay programs and payday loan options.


Social justice will also continue to be an important area that institutions take a more active role in addressing and supporting. Several credit unions are establishing permanent diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that better engage members and the community. Common strategies include creating executive-level positions focused solely on DEI, building social justice committees, facilitating candid conversations on the topic and hosting virtual events.


The shifts stemming from the pandemic will have lasting impacts. Those that embrace open technology, carefully balance humans and technology and focus on evolving their member service strategies to offer timely support will be well positioned for success throughout the remainder of this year and beyond.


Gary Lee is the chief client officer of Member Driven Technologies (MDT), a CUSO that hosts the Episys® core processing system from Symitar® to provide a private cloud alternative for core processing and IT needs.


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